Bolivia is known for its political instability and forced removal of political leaders through military coups. Following Evo Morales electoral victory in 2005, Bolivia has experienced significant economic growth and political stability. This is indicated by the growth rate in GDP PPP (from $4 578 in 2005 to $5 279 in 2010, and $5 650 in 2012) and improvement in the Human Development Index (HDI), climbing from rank 115 in 2008 to 113 in 2013. Morales is the longest serving Bolivian President to date, due largely to a strong electoral base consisting of indigenous civilians and the working class. Morales has been re-elected to run office for a third term, with large sectors of the Bolivian society now calling for him to run for a fourth term. This paper will look at the manner in which the pro-Morales civilians plan to achieve their goal of keeping the President in office for another term and how Morales managed to maintain a strong support base.
According to the Bolivian law, the constitution can be amended through a specified grass-root referendum or a reform within the legislature. This space allowed for civil society to march to the country’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly to submit their request for constitutional reform eliminating term limits for the President and vice-President. Should this submission pass will allow for a democratic pursuit of a potential fourth term in office for President Morales. The Senate is scheduled to review the proposal in February 2016 to decide whether the constitution will be amended to allow Morales to run for elections in 2019.
Morales was re-elected in 2009, and again in 2014 with 61% victory over opposition, with his current term due to end in 2020. The Morales administration has enjoyed widespread popularity and stability, which marked the end of leadership challenges Bolivia has been grappling with prior to his presidency as it has had five presidents in four years. Previous leaders were forced to resign as citizens opposed and protested against their neoliberal regimes. Morales is highly popular among Bolivians for his contributions as a leader of the coca-growers union and because he is the first President to emerge from the indigenous majority, who suffered centuries of discrimination. Furthermore, Morales socialist beliefs combined with left-wing ideas, predicated on traditional Andean values and social organisation. He was able to win a 3rd term in 2014 based on this strategy which included changes such as nationalising all oil and gas industries. As a result of these reforms (nationalisation of oil and gas industries) the Bolivian government increase welfare expenditure, reducing poverty by 25% and extreme poverty by 43% by the year 2014.
Reform was also visible in the country’s national identity; hence Morales called for a re-interpretation of the country’s identity through constitutional reform. The revised constitution clearly spelt out the rights of Bolivian indigenous majority, allowing for decentralised power and redefining the country as a multi-ethnic nation. The country’s new identity was signified by the adoption of a new rainbow-coloured indigenous flag flown alongside the traditional flag.
Morales has improved the economic and political situation of Bolivia, having come into power through radical programmes aimed at addressing the country’s social divisions and extreme inequalities. Despite changes in economic performance, Bolivia remains the poorest country in Latin America as it remains overly dependent on natural gas and minerals exports. Not only does Bolivia face the challenge of diversifying its economy, but it is also plagued by corruption and crime. In 2014 the Transparency International index ranked Bolivia the third most corrupt country in Latin America.
Morales gained support and the trust of Bolivians through radical economic reform by nationalising the country’s resources and investing returns into public programmes to support the poor. Although Bolivian economy has significantly improved, the country still remains the weakest economically in Latin America. Should the Senate amend the constitution, Morales should focus on diversifying the Bolivian export market as it is reliant on gas; this is to ensure sustainable economic growth. This will depend largely on the vehemence of the public pressure to have him stay put.