It has come a time in which the Bolivian government should take a moment to seriously ponder what should it's next move be. This is a good moment for that because, after six consecutive and significant electoral victories, it has just experienced it's first defeat in the February 21 referendum on constitutional reform. A defeat, which will deny the continuation of Mr. Morales as president of the country, and which has shown the fallibility of the MAS as a party. Four years are left for Mr. Morales; years which may be devoted, not to find a way to stay in power in spite of the referendum results, but to instead consolidate his 'Process of Change'.
Morales' Process of Change
If you are a reader of this Blog, you have already seen the posts about Mr. Morales' Process of Change. If not, here is a post on that topic to read as a background.
The Process of Change is the big project the Morales government is trying to implement in Bolivia. According to Mr. Morales, it has basically meant a complete change, from a previous, undesirable neo-liberal state to a 'new' more desirable, inclusive, socialist state, where the state is at the center of everything. The most distinctive characteristic of that process has been the creation of a new political culture, which was achieved through the active and actual inclusion of the indigenous people's in the political process. Forms of inclusion have not only included the access of individuals with indigenous backgrounds to the highest political posts in the nation, but also the regular exchange between the government and indigenous groups. At least with the groups with better connections. The participation of indigenous groups has changed Bolivia in different ways.
Yet, before going into the types of changes, let me remind you this has not been the only time in which the government has tried inclusion. If we go back to the aftermath of the 1952 revolution, which created what is in Bolivia known as the 52 State (El Estado del 52), we can recall a concept introduced by the MNR (the party which took the revolution's leadership): co-government (co-gobierno). That meant, simply put, shared government. Within this system, the most politically powerful workers organization, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) together with the mining unions, would have an integral role in government. That meant, alongside government officials, COB and union leaders would take part in the governmental decision-making process. Just to clarify, back then, most indigenous people were organized in form of syndicates and unions. Furthermore, in the early 70s, during the Torres military regime, the co-government was partially re-established and the Popular Assembly (Asamblea Popular), a legislature made up of politically relevant corporatist groups, was introduced. Once again, here is necessary to highlight that most indigenous groups had been organized as unions, syndicates and social groups.
While inclusion has not been a new objective, the Morales government has experienced the largest and deepest inclusion of indigenous peoples in Bolivian history. At this point in time, I am, for simplicity of the argument, attributing the government what has been a long, arduous, well planned and better executed plan. The arrival of the MAS was started by the social movements back in the mid-1980s, when in a conference they decided to create a political instrument which will make it possible for those groups to gain political relevance by playing with the rules of the game. Evo Morales, has had, both the skill and surely luck, to become the principal figure and thereby a type of symbol of this, what I call, process.
The result of this process, which arrived its highest point through the Morales government, has been the fact that the political elite was virtually replaced by a new, more indigenous, elite. Once again, not only the government began with a more indigenous face, but the majority of the seats in Congress held individuals of indigenous descent. Furthermore, this happened at all levels of government. So you had, and still have, in Bolivia a situation where the departmental governments and the municipal governments have a majority of individuals of indigenous descent.
Nevertheless, in order to make a profound change, it is not just enough to change the entire political elite. It is a good start, but it is not enough. In this regard, the Bolivian government, taking an active role, began a process of institutionalization of the Process of Change. This however did not only mean the complete reform of the government, i.e. ministries, agencies, public administration, and so on. This institutionalization went beyond that.
For that reason, one of the government's first moves was to rewrite the constitution. In 2009, the newly rewritten Bolivian Constitution was approved by a national referendum and, as a result, the Plurinational Bolivian State was born. Furthermore, according to the government, since it was a new state, it needed new laws. That was the reason why the government and the new legislature wrote and passed again the most important laws. These laws replaced their earlier versions. In this post you can read about some of the most important laws of the time. Since 2010, the Legislative has passed almost 500 laws. In this blog you can see a comprehensive list since 2010, albeit it is all in Spanish.
But why was this type of institutionalization important? The answer was, and still is, the Morales government needed a new legal environment to proceed with the Process of Change. In the years following Morales' first election, he repeatedly complained he wanted to do things but his lawyers did not allow him much room for action. After the Plurinational State was created and the laws began to be activated, his government could finally begin with the next steps, such as with nationalization and the transformation of the economy from a more or less liberalized system to a system where the state would play a central role. The new laws also allowed the government to bring a bit of political stability by passing, for example, the decentralization and autonomy law, which had the convenient effect of pacifying the opposition.
The defeat: why it happened and what it means for the government and it's party?
Considering the above explanation, it seems the Bolivian government's Process of Change has come a long way. Indeed, the current stage of this process would be, if you listen to the government, the industrialization phase. The government is investing important sums of money in the creation of value added industry, such as factories producing sugar or refineries to produce diesel or even thermo-electrical plants to turn Bolivia the center of clean energy in the region.
The question almost everyone was asking me when the referendum results were being reported was why did Morales lose? Indeed it seemed a contradictory outcome. However, what many forgot was the fact that the referendum was not about evaluating Morales and his administration. Most people are still supporting Morales' policies. The referendum was about reforming the 2009 Constitution to allow Morales to run a fourth time for the presidency. Let us remember, it is not too long ago, when Bolivia was led by a military dictator. It might be that democracy meanwhile is over 30 years in practice, but many citizens can very well remember those days of dictatorships. It very well may be that Morales thinks no one else can do the job, but for many Bolivians when some one wants to change the constitution to stay in power, does not leave a good impression. It does not matter how well Morales is doing.
What should Morales do?
He should do instead concentrate on the formal institutionalization of his political organization/party, the MAS.
Let us remember the MAS is not a classical political party. With that I mean, it does not rely on an ideological tradition, it is not organized as such and it does not seek to aggregate (at least a part of) society's political preferences to translate them into policies.
The MAS is more of a political organization; one which is constituted by a diversity of groups with a diversity of interests, each of which have at least two levels that separate those interests. At the meta level the issues are broad and, at least in that context, generally applicable. Examples are indigenous interests such as inclusion, political participation, rights, and identitarian processes. At the more particular level, each one of these groups have their own interests that shape their agendas, which they seek to implement. These can be from border issues, to infrastructure needs, jobs, to education and health.
While the MAS, it can be argued, is already institutionalized, its institutionalization is still weak. The MAS has a pretty rigid vertical structure that goes from the local level of leadership directly to Morales, and vice versa. The MAS is a heavily personalistic organization. That
is, most decisions rely on the weight of Evo Morales, as a leader and symbol of the movement.
In that sense, it has until now been visible that most decisions have
been made at the top and carried out by the, what Morales calls, bases. Howver, decisions are also discussed at the local level in discussion groups, cabildos, ampliados (assembly meetings), etc. The decisions are then transported to the top according to each organization's structure. It is usual that such organizations making up the MAS' bases have different levels of decision-making, for example, there are those that have departmental or regional levels. Other organizations have stronger local structures that might even reach the individual or family.
What should Morales do instead in the remaining of his term?
He should concentrate some efforts at institutionalizing the political process inside the MAS. He (or they) should establish a process by which the next MAS leader can emerge. Building up a structure of institutional offices and roles where the aspiring future leaders can acquire experience and prove themselves can be of advantage. At the same time, he (or they) should establish a mechanism to regularly elect the emergent leaders. In addition, he (they) should implement mechanisms to make decisions, as democratic and as transparent as possible. Lastly, he (they) should perhaps think on adopting an ideological tradition, one which can provide guidance in the future.