Miguel Centellas notes that the new Bolivian constitution makes a few changes in the country’s legislative electoral system.
The legislature is renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and, presumably to put that into action, the first chamber electoral system will be required to have seats set aside for indigenous representation. However, Miguel notes that this is not very significant in practice:
The indigenous seats must come from the 130 total, are limited to “rural” districts [...Moreover, ] Rural SMDs were already de facto “indigenous” seats; now that is merely recognized officially.
The MMP system, in which about half the seats are elected from single-seat districts, remains. This is in spite of earlier proposals from the ruling MAS to move to a system of exclusively single-seat districts.
MAS also previously advocated abolishing the Senate. Instead, it will be retained, but with a non-trivial change: the number of seats per department will go from 3 to 4. Currently, these are elected by that Latin American oddity that I refer to as “limited slate” or “limited nominations.” A party may nominate two candidates on a closed list, and the party with the plurality elects both, while the first runner-up elects its first-ranked candidate. (Similar systems are used in the second chambers of Argentina and Mexico.) Miguel notes that the electoral system for the new 4-seat districts is undetermined, but is supposed to be “proportional.”
Bolivia’s Senate is really an anomaly: it just might be the most malapportioned chamber in any unitary state. It is not surprising that, politically, it could not be abolished or even that its malapportionment could not be reduced, given conflicts over regional autonomy. Still, as Miguel says, this reform actually makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree, as far as partisan representation is concerned, as long as the formula actually is PR and not some continued form of list plurality. Under PR, the second and even third largest party in a department would be better represented than is now the case, which potentially nationalizes the highly regionalized party system a bit more.
As for whether Bolivia retains a unitary state, I believe so. An earlier post by Miguel refers to a new “federacy,” a term I understand as within the confines of a unitary state, but with special autonomy status for one or more of several sub-jurisdictions of the state.
In short, these changes seem like small improvements. But will they help solve the country’s deep political conflicts?