Bolivia is multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and has many religions. It has a tough land locked geography and has had a turbulent colonial past. It’s name comes from a popular Latin American hero of Simon Bolivar who has been an icon of rebellion against colonial Spain.
It is no wonder than that it is in fact a very interesting place for a social and political experiment. Indeed since 2005 it has been governed by a democratically elected left wing, indigenous politician Mr. Evo Morales. He and his Socialist Party (MAS) has made the country a better place in the 14 years they have ruled. Life became easier for the poor, people are on average better of, culturally there has been a democratization and recognition of the local peoples. So what went wrong in 2019?
Two factors were at work. Firstly Mr. Morales wanted to keep sitting as the President in spite of the fact that the constitution and then a referendum on the constitution both limited his desire. He did not give up. He kept pushing and manipulating although many -even in his party- felt he was on the wrong track. And that he should just respect these limitations to show his respect to democracy. His passion overruled his reason. Secondly, Mr. Morales was powerful enough to shape the legislature, judiciary and the media. So there were no real institutions to uphold the rules, checks and balances. In the end, he run away to Mexico because meddling with elections pushed the opposition and the army together to stand against him. The streets went on fire since many people also liked Mr. Morales.
It seemed that, all that progress was reversed overnight. What followed was a year of confusion and turmoil in Bolivia. By a separate, fateful mistake of the leaders of MAS, the opposition conservatives took power. They promised a free and fair election and after two postponed dates an election was carried out on November 2020.
But who won? Eva Morales’s party. By getting 50% of the vote. With a new name as President. Mr. Luis Acre. Everyone including the opposition leaders accepted the results. It was a huge victory. Mr. Morales is back in Bolivia and seems to be outside the politics apart from a couple of tweets. It should stay like that. After all, he should have left the scene in 2019 and MAS would still win at that time and the country would have avoided all the deaths and injuries and turmoil.
The lesson to derive from Bolivia is that; to establish a fully functioning democracy is not a straight forward work. However it requires both people and the institutions to have a common acceptance of certain values and norms. They don’t have to be written, nevertheless things everyone would know and respect. Media should be free and fact based. Courts should be independent. Politicians should accept that they will come and they will go. Army should be outside of politics. Social justice and income equality should be economic policy objectives. Differences must be tolerated. Bolivia seems to on track again on its experiment. Let us hope that external influences are also supportive in the coming years.