BY ALAN PORTER
Evo Morales' MAS party has won 51% of seats in elections for a new Constituent Assembly, leaving him well short of the two thirds majority needed to pass legislation. This is problematic for his government, since the whole point of a Constituent Assembly is to rewrite the constitution.
Now the support of right-wing parties will be needed for any reform to be made. Some Western media has rather unfairly labelled this as a “defeat” for Morales’ “radical reforms” - after all, he did as well as in December's presidential election, and leading right-wing opposition PODEMOS lost 5% - but this result is not good for the left.
Much of the fault for that has to lie with the Morales' government itself. It has long been a key demand of the social movements that a Constituent Assembly should be convened so that ordinary Bolivian workers and indigenous people can create a replacement for the 1825 Constitution. However, the social movements’ candidates were excluded from taking part in the elections. This was partly by restrictive electoral procedures (such as an obligation to collect 30,000 signatures in two weeks), drawn up by existing parties of all stripes to ensure that only establishment parties could take part.
It was also by blatant attacks on the electoral lists. David Vargas, who in 2003 led a police mutiny and received over 100,000 votes in one La Paz mayoral race, was nominated on the electoral lists of three different parties - but without any warning or explanation, his name "disappeared". Morales' vice-president, Linera, has said that the Assembly "should only reform about 20% of the constitution" - excluding social movements and radical leftists from taking part will ensure this. COB leaders, FEJUVE and Oscar Olivera were all barred from "creating the new Bolivia" even though it was they, not MAS, who have been instrumental in struggles against neo-liberalism and foreign domination.
Leading figures in the social movements such as Roberto de la Cruz have denounced the Assembly as an "instrument of the oligarchy". By making sure that only MAS and the parties of the oligarchy could stand, the government has denied ordinary Bolivians any role in refounding the constitution. This has now backfired - without a two-thirds majority, MAS will have to make pacts with right-wing parties if it wants to push through reforms. These latter are bound to veto any progressive moves.
It is perhaps doubtful that social movements would have gained many votes. When the level of struggle is low, they cannot effectively lead their base - for example, the April 21st "General Strike" called by the COB got under 2,000 workers into the streets. The call for a parallel "Original [i.e. indigenous] and Popular Constituent Assembly" appears to be just posturing - they called a boycott of the July 2nd elections, but have made no concrete steps to create their alternative. The COB says it will build a workers' party - but when?
There were also referendums on regional autonomy - this was defeated overall by 56% to 44%, although Santa Cruz voted in favour of more independence. This is not “self-determination”, but about resource-rich regions where multinationals have their offices looking to get a tighter grip on gas which is “endangered” by indigenous people being given a share in the country's wealth. The regions voting for autonomy were those where there is a greater white/Spanish population, although in no province are they a majority.
The movement for Santa Cruz independence is deeply reactionary, its most prominent element being PODEMOS. That party's main electoral hook had been attacking Morales for his relationship with Chávez, including their hilarious electoral broadcast, "Chávez is sending soldiers to Bolivia. Say no to Chávez." Scared as they sound, they shouldn't be too afraid. Rather like Chávez, there doesn't seem to be too much chance that Morales is about to overthrow the bourgeois-oligarchic state.