Nearly 45 Percent for Evo, but Bolivia Election Smells of FraudBy Luis Gomez,
Posted on Sun Dec 18th, 2005 at 07:20:55 PM EST
The voting in Bolivia ended about three hours ago, kind readers. This morning, at 8:45 sharp, Evo Morales cast his vote in Villa 14 de Septiembre, a town in the heart of the Chapare. Evo spoke of the necessity that “today’s vote bring an end to discrimination.”
The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS in its Spanish initials) candidate also spoke of the need to live in peace while respecting social justice. And in these moments, it has been announced, unofficially, that Evo has 44.5 percent of the votes counted up till now… which would be a victory unparalleled in the history of Bolivia.
Nevertheless, the day was not completely peaceful, as the MAS candidate had hoped. A few hours ago, in at least a few parts of the country, such as Villa Ingenio in the city of El Alto, it began to smell like fraud. Let’s go now to what’s happening.
Less than two hours after Evo Morales voted, at 10:30 am, the first voting station closed in Bolivia. It was the booth installed in the women’s prison in the city of La Paz… Evo Morales and his other candidates won by a landslide in that contest, with 12 of the 18 votes cast. The phenomenon repeated itself in the first polling station in the department of Chuquisaca and the city of Cochabamba.
The Bolivians in struggle, ”the simple working people” for whom Oscar Olivera fights so hard, showed up early to vote at polls that were open for eight hours (from 8am to 4pm). The national news media have also been paying attention to the hundreds of Bolivian immigrants in Argentina: since Friday they have been crossing the Bolivian border to go exercise their right to democracy in their communities of origin.
But around midday, while the MAS continued scoring small victories in many corners of the country, this correspondent was in Villa Ingenio, the El Alto neighborhood that lost at least 16 people during the massacres of October 2003. There, in the polling station set up at Antonio Pareces Candia High School, an older Aymara man approached…
“Are you from the press?”
“Yes, I’m a Mexican journalist…”
“Ah, I was looking for the local press.”
“Well, talk to me, maybe I can help you…”
And don Luis Paco Chambi told us the story of how, despite having all his documentation in order to vote, his name appeared with a “not voting” label. “There are many of us, hundreds,” said Paco. And this correspondent could indeed confirm that dozens of people were being irregularly “purged” from the lists…
Obviously, many people who did not vote in the last elections (the municipal elections of December 2004) were purged from the voting rosters, as the law demands. In fact, not voting incurs several different sanctions, including a fine of 150 bolivianos (US$19)… that is, the poor, who live off as little as 20 bolivianos per week for their entire family — they vote, kind readers, more out of obligation (for not having the money to pay the fine) than any other reason.
“Many people,” explained a collegue who was able to contact the electoral authorities, “arrived late to past elections and could not vote. And so, they received the receipt for having showed up but didn’t vote, and because of that they could have been purged from the National Electoral Court’s systems.” This sensible still leaves unclear why there have been 26,000 similar cases reported throughout the country.
I forgot to mention that in Villa Ingenio, at Antonio Paredes Candia High School, the MAS won the last elections. In Pongo, an Aymara highland community loyal to the MAS, 1200 out of a total 1800 voters were purged. Coincidences?
Complaints similar to don Luis Paco Chambi’s have kept coming in from all over Bolivia: in Oruro a reporter from Radio Pío XII calculated that as many as 30 percent of the electorate may have been irregularly purged from the rosters. But this is happening in Cochabamba, in Sucre, in Santa Cruz… this is serious…
Historic Vote for Evo
Meanwhile, a few minutes ago the official vote count began. The National Electoral Court has begun to count and report the results little by little. The two major television stations have already published preliminary results based on the polls that have already closed.
The national television chain ATB has given Evo 41.2 percent of the vote up to now, with 36.3 percent for former president Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga. But the media conglomerate Usted Elige, made up of television and radio stations as well as newspapers across Bolivia, announces 44.5 percent for Evo and 34.3 for Quiroga. If the vote follows this trend, Evo would win by the largest margin in the history of the Bolivian electoral system.
MAS’ people across the country, despite their denunciations of possible fraud, have begun to celebrate…
In any event, before signing off for the moment, we don’t want you to forget this: if indeed there is fraud, it won’t be to overturn the man who will clearly win this election… there is a different problem.
If there is not at least a five percent difference between Evo and rightwing cadidate Jorge Quiroga, there exists a great risk that the coca growers’ leader will not become president. If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one of the votes, the newly-elected National Congress, as soon as it convenes in January, must vote between the two top candidates… and there the Bolivian Right could unite and elect the second-most popular (Quiroga), arguing that both have more or less the same level of popular support. Fraud in these elections, then, would not be to turn the popular over to another, but to diminish the distance between Evo and Quiroga. Understand?
For the moment, as you can see, the tension is ongoing… we will keep reporting on all this…