Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bolivia moves to the left

The leftist surge in Latin American continues. Last week it was Chile. This week it's Bolivia:

Exit polls from Bolivia's presidential election suggest a clear victory for left-wing Aymara Indian candidate Evo Morales -- though not an outright win.

Several polls give him 42-45% of the vote ahead of his nearest challenger, former President Jorge Quiroga who, the polls say, got between 33-37%.

In Bolivia's electoral system, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of votes cast in a presidential election, the new parliament (elected at the same time) picks the new president itself. However, given that third-place candidate Samual Doria Medina has already pledged his support to the top vote-getter, it is almost certain that Morales will "become Bolivia's first indigenous president".

The BBC reports that Morales admires Fidel Castro and that the Bush Administration worries that he may be anogher Hugo Chavez (the populist anti-American president of Venezuela). That may or may not be true. And it may very well be that Bolivia, "South America's poorest state," would benefit more from economic liberalization than from leftist protectionism.

Yet Morales's election makes sense: "Morales, a former coca leaf-grower and union leader, described himself on election day as 'the candidate of those despised in Bolivian history, the candidate of the most disdained, discriminated against'. Bolivia's indigenous people, who make up more than half the population, generally support the man who pledges to legalise the production of the coca leaf, a food staple, although not the cocaine manufactured from it."

He may not necessarily be the right candidate, but he will at least speak for, and represent the interests of, the dispossessed elements of Bolivian society. I certainly think that Bolivia needs ultimately to embrace liberalization, but at least those elements will have a voice for once. That's democracy at work -- and hopefully a step in the right direction.

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Elswhere, the BBC examines "Latin America's year of elections": "Latin America's political map could find itself being redrawn as 12 of the region's countries prepare for presidential elections between November 2005 and the end of 2006." Recommended reading.

For more, The New York Times looks at Latin America's leftward shift in light of the Bolivian elections: "The leftist movement that has taken hold in Latin America over the last seven years is diverse." Also recommended.

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