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Bolivians elect president, both houses of legislature

December 6, 2009 - BOLIVIA

When Bolivians go to the poll in December, President Evo Morales will be standing again for the presidency. Divided Bolivia will be electing more members of the Senate than before and fewer members of the Chamber of Deputies in a new first-past-the-post system. The changes follow a constitutional referendum in Jan 2009, which also gave South America's first indigenous head of state the ability to run for reelection for another five-year term. Violence and an opposition election boycott are likely.

When Bolivians go to the poll in December, leftist President Evo Morales will be standing again for the presidency. Divided Bolivia will be electing more members of the Senate than before and fewer members of the Chamber of Deputies in a new first-past-the-post system. The changes follow a constitutional referendum in Jan 2009, which also gave South America's first indigenous head of state the ability to run for reelection for another five-year term. Violence and an opposition election boycott are likely. According to a Mori poll in November, Morales has a 52 per cent vote intention followed by Manfred Reyes Villa from Convergencia Nacional (a collection of conservative groups) with 18 per cent. The main issue is control of the senate, as a win for Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party will give the president unimpeded political control. At present the ruling party controls Congress, but opposition lawmakers control the senate. The referendum that gave Morales the ability to run for reelection for another five-year term also transfered key economic sectors and the country's vast natural gas fields to state control. The governors of Bolivia's four wealthier, gas-rich eastern states -- Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni -- can be expected to campaign against Morales, who won the 2005 elections with strong indigenous support. These tropical lowlands contain most of Bolivia's natural gas production and are responsible for most of its agricultural output. The sweeping constitutional changes gave the country's 36 indigenous communities and groups rights to territory, language and even their own "community" systems of justice. His controversial strategies have exacerbated racial and economic tensions between the Amerindian populations of the Andean west and the non-indigenous communities of the eastern lowlands. Anti-Morales protesters seized government offices and launched a series of strikes in Aug 2008.

A day with a hyperactive leftist leader, Bolivia's Morales (Reuters 15 Oct 2009)

Survey ratifies Evo Morales re-election in December (Inside CostaRica 17 Nov 2009)

Bolivia faces long reform struggle (BBC 26 Jan 2009)

President Morales declares hunger strike (AFP 10 Apr 2009)

Date written/update: 2009-12-06