Bolivians vote on Sunday, and the most likely outcome remains a plurality of the vote for MAS, the party of Evo Morales. He will not win a majority, and so a joint sitting of the two chambers of congress that will be elected on Sunday will select the president. Its choices will be restricted to either Morales or the candidate who is second in votes–almost certainly former president Jorge Quiroga.
On the final examination last week in my Policy-Making Processes course, one of the questions was:
Suppose you are advising one of the Bolivian parties other than the MAS. Suppose further that Evo Morales wins a plurality of the voteâ€”perhaps over 33%, while the runner-up is under 30%. Which strategy is more in your clientâ€™s political interest: To form a coalition with other parties besides MAS to keep Morales out of the presidency, or to form a coalition with MAS in which Morales becomes president? Whichever approach you choose, explain the consequences. For instance, if Morales is president, how will your clients be able to keep him in check, and if he is not president, how will the government cope with him and his allies as opposition?
The students (120 or so of them) split almost exactly 50-50 on whether their “client” should vote for Morales or for Quiroga (or whoever the runner up is). The arguments for voting to make Morales president included mixes of the following:
–his supporters will protest and effectively shut down the country if their man has the plurality but is denied the presidency, and they may even succeed in overthrowing the president (as has happened before);
–set Morales up to fall; despite the formlly fixed term, in fact Bolivian presidents often do not serve out their terms (indeed, this election was called ahead of schedule due to succession problems).
Arguments in favor of denying Morales the presidency noted that he is actually the representative of only a third or so (we’ll see just how much once Sunday’s votes are in) and he represents the extreme end of the ideological spectrum; it is more “democratic” to block a candidate like this than to reward his extremism by giving him a presidency that he cannot win outright.
Least persuasive were arguments (by a few) that suggested the other parties could bind Morales with a coalition arrangement similar to those we see in parliamentary systems. Bolivia’s system is “parliamentary” only in the executive selection phase–a coalition is needed to select the head of government. But then it reverts to presidential, in that there is no formal “confidence” mechanism with which colition partners can withdraw support if the government no longer is keeping to its cross-party bargains. At that point in Bolivia, only by informal mechanisms can the government’s mandate be revoked, and in some circumstances, early elections called. (It took some a rather expansive interpretation of the constitution to hold these elections.)
My own view is that the Bolivian system, while it served reasonably well when the party system was dominated by three main parties, none of which was extreme, needs fundamental reform. Either a pure parliamentry system, or a pure presidential system (with the president elected via a popular runoff) would be better. Under neither “pure” type would an extremist like Morales have any realistic chance of becoming head of government. But this round of presidential selection will take place under the bastardized hybrid that they have, and it will certainly be worth watching closely.
My previous posts can be found by scrolling through the South America block.