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Bolivia’s Morales ignores constitution and public referendum in bid for fourth term as president

By Daniel Ramos

Bolivian President Evo Morales launched his campaign for a fourth term on Saturday in a remote coca-growing valley without addressing the biggest controversy in his bid — the fact that he is running at all.

Bolivian President Evo Morales

Morales, who became the country’s first indigenous president in 2006, is defying constitutional term limits and a public referendum. In 2016, voters rejected his proposal to amend the constitution to let him seek another five-year term this year. He later won a court ruling allowing him to run on the grounds that barring him would violate human rights.

Speaking before tens of thousands of people in the province of Chapare, where he first entered politics as a leader of coca farmers, Morales promised on Saturday to bring factories to rural areas and tap the country’s potential as a major lithium producer.

“We’re better than before, sisters and brothers,” Morales told the cheering crowd in a televised speech.

One of the remaining leaders of the so-called pink tide of leftists who swept into office in South America earlier this century, Morales has remade Bolivia’s status quo since taking office 13 years ago.

He has nationalized strategic resources while overseeing robust growth, cut poverty, empowered once-marginalized Aymara Indians and railed against U.S.-backed policies to control coca, an Andean crop that can be used to make cocaine.

“We still have a lot to do. Following the nationalizations, we have now started with industrialization,” Morales said.

Morales’ party has argued that gains for ordinary Bolivians would be erased if the right-wing opposition takes power, and voters should be able to decide.

On the eve of his campaign launch, Morales secured the blessing of the head of the Organization of American States, infuriating his critics who see Morales as a threat to Bolivia’s democracy.

“To say that Evo Morales can’t participate is absolutely discriminatory considering other presidents who have taken part in electoral processes on the grounds of a court ruling,” Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, said in televised comments during a visit to Chapare.

So far, Morales is leading with 33% support compared to his closest opponent, Carlos Mesa, at 25 percent, according to the latest Ipsos survey. But 20% of Bolivians are undecided and Morales’ once-solid popularity has slipped.

The place he chose to kick off his campaign hinted at growing polarization in the landlocked country of 11 million people. A 12-hour drive from the capital La Paz, Chapare is far from the cities where Morales’ public appearances are sometimes dogged by protests.

If no candidate wins at least 50% of the vote in the Oct. 20 election – or 40% with at least a 10-point lead over the runner-up – a run-off race will be held in December.

In 2005, Morales won the election with 54% of the vote in the first-round and was re-elected in 2009 and 2014 with more than 60%. Morales has said this year he wants to win the election outright with 70% of the vote.

Credit: Reuters,

9 thoughts on “Bolivia’s Morales ignores constitution and public referendum in bid for fourth term as president

  1. Bolivia has done as well as can be expected under President Morales’s leadership. The country faces challenges – landlocked, a poor uneducated population, lack of arable land, etc. So now, after 13 years under one man’s leadership, Bolivians might worry that Morales suffers illusions of grandeur and will become a dictator – valid concerns. So why can’t someone else take the helm from a popular president and continue with his policies through the next term? It’s not that easy. Look what happened to Ecuador after the last election.

    1. Why is it we only hear about term limits when it’s a poor country? Nobody complains about the fact that not a single country in the EU has term limits. Canada doesn’t have term limits. Neither does Australia or Singapore or Japan or any of the other countries that a developing country would aspire to. Angela Merkel has been in office for 14 years and we never hear anything about her illusions [sic.] of grandeur or that she’s a dictator.

      It seems the only countries that even have term limits are poor countries in Africa and the dysfunctional simulated democracy that is the US. Then of course there’s the extreme example of Mexico, where every elected office from mayor to president is limited to a single term. Would you consider Mexico’s democracy to be a strong one? Is that what Bolivia should aspire to? Even in South America, most countries do not have term limits. Ironically, the ones that do have the most violent lawless histories in the region. If democracy is more than just going through the motions, the people should have the right to elect whomever they believe will do the best job.

      Of maybe we should force large businesses to change their leadership every arbitrary number of years lest the billionaires become too powerful.

      1. Leadership in large businesses stay in power because they demonstrate earnings for their investors. If they slack, they get sacked without a military to back them up. I don’t understand that comparison.
        I do understand that political power eventually corrupts. How long does it take? Eight years? Thirteen years? That’s not my point.
        If there are term limits for a leader who is popular with the majority of constituents, and that person passes the torch to another because of the term limits, who’s to say that the torch won’t blow the other way after the election. Of all people, a Correista should understand how that can happen. The solution to this political dilemma is to walk the middle of the road , organize those who are politically oppressed, which usually does not include gringos living in Ecuador, while keeping a sense of humor. Oh yea, and also vote when you think it will make a difference.

        1. You really don’t understand the comparison? If a political demonstrates good stewardship of the nation, the people should be free to choose to keep them in that job. If they slack, the people should be free to vote them out. The idea that term limits protect the integrity of a democracy isn’t borne out by evidence.

      2. You missed the key point. The question of eliminating term limits went to a public referendum and was voted down. Fortunately for Morales, he controls the courts which decided his human rights were violated (what a hoot). My guess is that, if he loses the presidential election, the court will rule likewise and he will be declared winner despite the outcome.

        1. You missed my point. If people want someone out, they can vote them out. That’s the only term limit needed and the only one imposed in the overwhelming majority of developed countries. The court ruling that was so flippantly summarized here (on purpose) did not state that it violated Morales’s human rights, but rather that of the people to freely and fairly choose a president of their choosing.
          There were two laws in conflict. The Constitution guaranteed the right of the people to select any executive of their choosing and the referendum put a limit on how many terms a given leader can serve. Because these two parts were in conflict, the court held a hearing. In every country where such a conflict has been brought before the highest court, the ruling has been the same. You cannot pass a law that takes away a basic fundamental right. In the end, the court ruled that barring any candidate from running violated the Constitutional right of the people to choose a candidate of their choosing. This is so well founded in law around the world that Moreno purposely bypassed the Constitutional Court prior to the 2018 referendum because he knew it would have been struck down.
          Keep in mind that term limits are the exception, not the rule, around the world. The minority of countries that do impose them have not shown that term limits in any way strengthen or protect democracy. In fact, the countries that have term limits have a much higher rate of breaks with democracy, so I’m not sure why you think it’s such a critical issue. Either you believe people have the right to choose their government or you don’t. In the absence of evidence, any argument claiming they don’t is nothing more than baseless ideology.

  2. Similar to Correa it looks Morales is selling Bolivia to China. There is risk of mortgaging Bolivia’s revenues with easy-to-obtain Chinese-financed projects. Extraordinarily high numbers of these projects have been also been plagued by delays and difficulties much like Ecuadors Chinese projects.

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