Bolivians have given Evo Morales a clear presidential mandate, a vote of approval for his political skills and the benefits of an oil-driven economy. He now must shape a legacy for the future.
LA PAZ — Evo Morales did more than just win reelection for the Bolivian presidency this week: He earned a mandate. It was a landslide virtually across the country, with more than 60% of votes cast in his favor.
Even the business-oriented Santa Cruz department, which stubbornly opposed him in his early years, leaned this time toward the colorful candidate of the Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS). With the economy in good shape, a government that has favored the poor and a weak opposition, his victory turned massive.
Yet it has not been a bed of roses all the way.
Bolivia has made an evident turnaround over the past eight years. In 2005, when Morales arrived at the Palacio Quemada, La Paz" presidential palace, an atmosphere of social confrontation augured a period of instability. The indigenous peoples — formerly a neglected majority of Bolivians — have not only become more visible but began to receive direct economic benefits through various new aid programs.
Following the Venezuelan example, the country began paying the Juan Azurduy bonus to women and mothers of young infants, and providing health insurance for all children under the age of five. Its massive literacy programs are also notable.
To achieve this the president has spent the bonanza money obtained from selling oil, gas and minerals at high prices. Bolivia's economy has grown around 5% annually in recent years, and the government has also used such notable figures to take more radical — and contested — economic measures. In 2006, it nationalized the country's oil resources, provoking friction with certain countries affected by the move, though Bolivia moved on unperturbed, and began distributing lands to the poor and indigenous peasants.
Political conditions have been more complicated. It took Morales two years, from late 2007 to 2009, to ratify his new constitution with a referendum. He faced separatist movements in some departments, especially Santa Cruz. There were protests and rioting but an agreement was reached, including economic provisions a local businessman had proposed for that wealthy province, which proved fruitful.
The recent election results confirm his relative political and economic successes, even if the opposition continues to criticize Morales' authoritarian style.
Bolivia's current political, social and economic juncture favors the man the country refers to as "Evo," while the future, inevitably, entails challenges. Opponents have said the president has made the country's prosperity dependent on fluctuating revenues derived from energy sector sales.
Politically, it is not clear yet if MAS will control the Plurinational Legislative Assembly. The presidential party needs 111 seats in all, including 87 lower house representatives and 24 senators. It seems Evo will have a majority in the Senate, but possibly fall short of four seats in the lower house, which would force him to negotiate with smaller parties.
The re-elected president and his government will have to keep the economy fit over the next five years, and come to terms with the opposition. Doing so will give them an opportunity to smooth out differences with those who voted for one of the other four candidates, and quiet criticisms over his authoritarian tendencies.
Ultimately, Morales must decide whether the Bolivia he wants to build is an inclusive or divided nation.