8:15pm: Constitution Passing with 57% The results are still preliminary and vary somewhat depending on the media source, but the margins are all wide enough that there is little doubt of the result. The constitution backed by President Evo Morales and MAS will be approved by a solid majority of about 57% Yes / 43% No. Bolivians are still waiting for their President to walk out onto the balcony over Plaza Murillo in La Paz, to make his victory comments, and for his adversaries to have their word as well. In Cochabamba groups are setting up in the Central Plaza to mark the victory with music. But a few things are key to note based on these preliminary results. One is how deeply polarized Bolivians remain by region. According to UNITL, for example, the constitution was approved 75% to 25% in La Paz, while it was defeated 35% to 65% in Santa Cruz. In fact, the Morales/MAS victory, while substantial, is based on winning four out of nine of the nation’s departments. Similarly, the nation is deeply polarized between rural and urban voters. ATB reports that, with 95% of the votes in, urban voters approved the constitution a 52% Yes / 48% No, while rural voters backed it 82% to 18%. What does all this mean? It means that Bolivia has a new constitution, passed legally and fair. It means that there are likely to be conflicts ahead as the regions that reject it declare that they are not bound by it. It means that if the opposition has any real desire to become a marginal force nationally, it needs to figure out how to do more than run commercials with Jesus on television and begin to speak to rural voters who never saw their ads. It means, as before, that Morales continues to enjoy solid majority support for his political agenda, but no so solid as four months ago (when he won 67%). And it means that Bolivia remains a fractured country that will be hard to govern. 6:30 pm: OAS Says all Normal Well, the polls are closed now and the counting has begun. Amidst charges of fraud from Morales opponents, the OAS, which has 68 election observers out in the field today, has issued its first statement. The OAS says it looks to it that the voting took place with full regularity. But that preliminary analysis is based simply on a finding that most all of the nation's polling places has the required equipment and materials so that people could vote. It is doubtful that MAS opponents, especially if they lose as expected, will drop their charges of pressure on voters. But if they believe that Morales support in the rural areas of the country is manufactured rather than valid, they haven't spent much time talking to people in the countryside. 1:00 pm: A Quiet Day of Voting We’ll be blogging here periodically throughout the day. As of 12:35pm it appears that voting is going smoothly throughout the country, on this day without cars on the roads or legal drinking (both are banned on Election Day). Radio Erbol reports that 40% of the nearly 4 million eligible voters had already gone to the polls by noon. Some of the opposition governors – the usual Evo adversaries from Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz, and Tarija –have been claiming for weeks that the National Election Court is engineering electoral fraud today on behalf of President Evo Morales and his backers and they have called on international observers to go to the countryside where, the governors claim, pressure is being used on voters to support Morales and his proposed constitution. Nevertheless, it seems commonly believed here that the new constitution backed by Morales and his MAS political party will easily win the simple majority vote (50% plus one) that it needs to gain approval, though it may receive substantially less than the 67% support Morales won in last August’s referendum vote. The campaign was marked by remarkably little activity on the street, except in the very final days, but a virtual carpeting of the radio and television airwaves by both sides, much of it pretty wild. The religious-backed ads featuring rival pictures of Morales and Jesus, may have crossed a new high water mark for political overstatement. But that’s a tough competition to win. What does seem clear from most of my conversations the past few weeks is that this vote, like all of the recent national votes (the August 2008 referendum on Morales and the governors, the Constituent Assembly vote in 2006) is not so much about what is on the ballot as the person not on the ballot today, Morales. The content of the proposed constitution seems to be secondary to the basic question: Do you support Evo or oppose him? Today Morales remains politically strong, mainly because out in the countryside and in places like El Alto, he can count on 4 out of 5 voters to support him on virtually anything. In August that translated into a renewed mandate and the dispatch of two key rivals among the governors. Today it will likely mean approval of a new constitution. But if those numbers drop substantially below what he won four months ago, that will also be a measure of how solid his support will remain as the opposition struggles to unify behind and anti-Morales candidate in the December elections that would be triggered by that same new constitution. More later today, and we hope others will use the comments space today to share their observations as Bolivians vote.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Bolivia Votes on a New Constitution
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