According to Bolivian electoral law, interim president Eduardo Rodriguez must hold national elections within a timeframe of no more than 180 days from the start of his presidency last June. The realization of these elections, however, remains up in the air due to a recent ruling by Bolivia's constitutional court. Conflicts surrounding the distribution of congressional seats are now putting elections, scheduled for December 4th, at risk and bringing the country to the brink of a new crisis.
The Base of the Conflict
The central theme of the current Bolivian conflict is a political power play in the national Congress that goes hand in hand with a recent shift in economic power. In the years of dictator-turned president Hugo Banzer (who was from Santa Cruz) and since, the elites of Santa Cruz have been the recipients of significant economic support from the Bolivian government. The same investment in industry that increased job opportunities, economic growth, and personal wealth for Santa Cruz's elite, has led to a corresponding increased in immigration from other regions.
It is not a coincidence that the department of Santa Cruz which has recently been calling for regional autonomy was the instigator of this demand for a redistribution of seats, one which will directly increase the congressional power of the department.
What hangs in the balance is equality between departments: the departments which have suffered economically, and because of this have decreased in size, are struggling against political invisibility and the loss of their voice in government.
As it stands, the current crisis in Bolivia could end in the postponement of elections, putting the country in crisis once again. On one hand, President Rodriguez has promised that whether or not there are elections, he will leave his post at the end of his interim term, potentially leaving the country in a power vacuum. On the other hand, social movements, and specifically the sectors supporting the Movement Towards Socialism party of Evo Morales, see in the conflict a move to prevent the possibility that Morales win the elections and become Bolivia's next president. Morales is currently leading most public opinion polls.
Because of the looming crisis, president Rodriguez has announced that he is considering issuing an executive decree establishing the number of seats in each region, and holding elections based on that configuration- with or without agreement in congress.
*Boris Rios is a Bolivian activist living in Cochabamba.