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Evo Morales Photo: REUTERS/Gaston Brito
Image: Reuters/Gaston Brito

A flawed victory

Uta Thofern / db
October 13, 2014

Bolivian President Evo Morales won a third term in office on Sunday with about 60 percent of the vote, and his party is close to a two-thirds majority. That's a clear victory, but it has flaws, says DW's Uta Thofern.

https://p.dw.com/p/1DUwd

Bolivia confirmed President Evo Morales for the next five years, choosing continuity, stability and most likely a continued economic upswing. The sum total of the president's first two terms is impressive: Bolivia is getting good grades from the International Monetary Fund, the country's economy is growing, poverty is on the decline, and - perhaps most importantly - the government has successfully invested in education.

Sustainable economic policies

Morales managed to restore pride and self-confidence to the large indigenous majority of the population, suppressed for centuries by the white upper class. It's true he may have benefitted from the high prices for raw materials, but the president made the most of his country's natural resources by nationalizing companies and investing the profits in social programs. He aims to turn Bolivia from an export nation into a country that can actually process its own natural resources. Despite his socialist rallying cries, the president already successfully works hand in hand with quite a few entrepreneurs.

So, he got everything right - as if he'd taken it from a handbook for sustainable development. But if that is so, why is there such a feeling of unease? What's behind the criticism that arose ahead of the election both within the country and abroad?

Uta Thofern
Uta Thofern heads DW's Latin America deskImage: Bettina Volke Fotografie

Questionable interaction with the opposition

Is it because this is Morales' third term, which is in violation of the constitutionally-fixed term limit? Is it fear that the ruling party could pave the way for even more terms - an intention the party has consistently denied? Are complaints about a restricted freedom of the press or disadvantages for opposition candidates in the election campaign the problem, or is it about the president's refusal to hold even one public debate with the opposition candidate - with the justification that Morales is not obliged to talk to capitalists?

Arguably, it's a mix of the above - populist rhetoric paired with the arrogance of power - that comes across as a closeness to the people but is not far from a personality cult. The opposition is dismissed either as outdated or superfluous, even portrayed as an enemy of the people. Criticism is not regarded as standard and productive, it's treated as treason.

Shrewd spending, folksy appeal

That smacks of contempt, disdain and even a bit of revenge. 'I'll show you,' 'It's our turn now' - Morales is playing to emotions that simmer among the long-oppressed majority. Advocates of the plurinational state proclaimed with the new constitution say those attitudes are quite justified: after centuries of colonialist exploitation, they explain, Bolivia must be granted a transitional phase.

But Evo Morales would have won a resounding victory even if he had allowed the opposition more space. The virtues of a democracy become evident by how the opposition is treated - by allowing the option of a change in government and by the capability to enter into debate and compromise.

Evo Morales is far too educated not to be aware of these things. It's more than a blemish to his legacy that he hasn't taken them to heart, which raises the question of whether he underestimates his own people.

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