Left wins Bolivian Assembly Elections
This time last year the Bolivian government was one that was still controlled by the old oligarchs, but that was then and this is now.
Although the official figures have not yet been released unofficial estimates put Evo Morales's party, MAS (The Movement for Socialism), at winning between 130 and 135 seats out of 255 giving them an absolute majority.
The opposition parties fell far short of this with estimates of 67 seats for ex-President Quiroga's party, Podemos, another ex-president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada's party, the MNR, have 18 seats, while the National Unity party gained an estimated 13.
What these results clearly show is that in a country that has been dominated by the right for decades a new optimism has begun to emerge.
After ten years of intense struggle, which saw many wounded, killed and imprisoned a movement, that initially faced a number of defeats, was able to link struggles together, build a critical mass and become a power that could overthrow governments. It was in this context that MAS, a party built out of the social movements, was able to establish itself as a viable political alternative and then win the Presidential election late last year.
The effect of Morales's election victory has been two fold. It has raised the expectations of the poor, and Morales has launched various initiatives that have won him widespread support - such as renationalisation of the gas industry, literacy and health programs and land redistribution. It has also dampened down protest, with most of those who took part in the social movements saying "give Morales a chance".
This has meant that the leaders of the social movements, who are very aware that the reforms Morales are promising are far less significant than they appear have been unable to mobilise large numbers to push for greater change and that, with the exception of specific multinationals, the Morales government has actually increased the level of foreign investment in the country. In effect Morales is a good social democrat, delivering some reform and keeping the economy safe for capital.
However, whilst MAS has won a majority of seats they have not won the required 2/3 majority they would need to alter the constitution - and this may become problematic in the future where the right refuse to play ball. This has also meant that the US press in particular have painted this as a straight defeat for MAS despite the fact that they are set to win more than twice the seats of any other party.
The other voting that has been taking place in Bolivia is for the Autonomy Referendum, a vote to give regions greater autonomy from central government.
Whilst MAS have argued for a NO vote the right have campaigned vigorously for YES (a Santa Cruz rally pictured).
The right back the referendum partly because it allows the richest areas with the highest proportion of "Spanish" Bolivians to cut themselves off from the "Indian" regions, but more importantly since the election of Morales they want to have the power to oppose progressive taxation and other leftist policies for the areas where the elites live.
It appears that the NO vote has won with something like 53% of the vote to 47% although this has yet to be confirmed. However it's clear that the country was deeply divided on this with the rural areas voting solidly NO and the cities voting YES.
This page will be updated when the official figures come in.
Previously on Socialist Unity The Morales effect
MAS Movimiento al Socialismo (in Spanish)
Jim Shultz an excellent blog from Bolivia (in English)
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