LA PAZ, Bolivia – The Constitutional Court of Bolivia has accepted an appeal made by a group of parliamentarians that places personal political rights over constitutional passages, which clears the way for incumbent Evo Morales to run for a fourth term.
Morales, of the center-left to left-wing Movement for Socialism (MAS), was re-elected for another term in October of 2014 after he easily defeated challenger Samuel Jorge Doria of the center-right to right-wing Democratic Unity Coalition by a count of 61.4 percent to 24.2 percent. In parliamentary elections, meanwhile, the MAS held onto their congressional majority.
The nation’s first indigenous leader enjoyed a tremendously high approval rate as he began his current five-year term on January 22, 2015.
As he has been in power since January 2006, Morales was already the longest-serving democratically-elected leader in the history of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. However, after the 2014 win, Morales ensured that he would surpass military strongman and authoritarian Andrés de Santa Cruz (1829-1839) as the longest-serving leader of Bolivia, period, and he did so in September of 2015.
Trying to ride that wave of popularity, Morales and his MAS party presented a constitutional amendment bill to the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, which approved putting it to a referendum.
The aim of this bill was to amend Article 168 of the Constitution of the State by allowing two consecutive re-elections of the president and the vice president, meaning that Morales and García Linera would have been candidates once again in the 2019 election.
In February of 2016, that constitutional amendment referendum was held. After a one-day delay by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) due to the results being too close to call, the TSE declared that the ‘no’ vote emerged victorious with 51.30 percent of the vote as opposed to the 48.70 percent for the ‘yes’ vote amid a tense atmosphere between the Morales supporters and opposition supporters.
With the referendum having failed, Morales was set to leave office on January 22, 2020 and MAS was left with the nearly impossible task of finding an alternate candidate given Morales’ popularity and status as the face of the coalition.
Earlier this year, however, several MAS parliamentarians filed an appeal of unconstitutionality with the Constitutional Court against several articles pertaining to the Electoral Law that regulate the terms of office and the continuous re-election of presidents, governors, mayors and assembly members.
The MAS members argued that these articles violate the political rights afforded to all Bolivians and, after more than two months of deliberation, the Constitutional Court agreed and ruled that these rights have legal priority over the constitutional restrictions. As it is the highest judicial authority, the court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
As expected, the notable figures of the Bolivian opposition were displeased with the decision of the court. One of those figures, the conservative candidate handily defeated by Morales in the last presidential election, Samuel Doria, decried the decision as a “coup” and said that he and his coalition would “confront Evo wherever it is necessary, whether it is at the ballot boxes or on the streets.”
Morales responded to the criticism by insisting that “massive social movements in favor of continuous re-election showed the desire of the Bolivian people” and that his MAS colleagued acted accordingly. He also noted that the decision of the court applies to “not only the president but to all political authorities, whether they belong to the current administration or the opposition.”
Juan Evo Morales Ayma, 54, born to a poor, indigenous (Aymara) family of llama breeders in the small town of Isallavi in the Oruro Department, rose to prominence through his leadership position in a coca growers labor union. His prominence grew and after leading several large-scale anti-government marches, he eventually entered politics as a MAS Deputy for Cochabamba in 1997.
Morales ran for President in 2002 and finished second to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada of the center-right Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) party by only 1.6 percentage points. Since neither met the 50 percent threshold, the MNR man was chosen as President by the National Congress, as was the law at the time.
Just over year later, however, Sánchez de Lozada’s economic policies and plans for natural gas and hydrocarbon exportation led to strong public opposition and protest marches were led by Morales into La Paz. After three days of demonstrations, Sánchez de Lozada sent in military troops to destroy the protest and after clashes erupted between demonstrators and troops, 59 civilians were killed and Sánchez de Lozada’s rule was on the brink.
After Morales called for another march and the human mass was turned back violently, Sánchez de Lozada fled to the United States. Several efforts by the Bolivian government to extradite him back to his native country have been unsuccessful.
After years of political instability and interim leaders, new elections were called in 2005 and Morales would emerge victorious this time, defeating the Christian Democrat Jorge Quiroga by a margin of 54 percent to 29 percent. By Morales’ side was his running mate, Álvaro García Linera, who remains in that position. In 2009, Morales easily retained the presidency by winning 64 percent of the vote, almost 40 percentage points more than the second-placed candidate, Manfred Reyes Villa of the conservative Plan Progress for Bolivia party.
In April of 2013, the Bolivian Supreme Court ruled that Morales could run for a third consecutive term, even though the Bolivian Constitution limits this number to two. The reason given was that because the Constitution was amended in 2009, that meant that Morales’ first term which began in 2006 did not count toward the now-amended term limits as he was elected under the old Constitution.
It is not surprising that Morales’ popularity remains very high, even if the 2016 referendum failed. He has significantly improved the lives of Bolivia’s lower and working classes, as well as of the poor and the indigenous through his center-left policies of anti-imperialistic nationalization and social democracy while expanding the national economy.