Victory for MAS and crushing defeat for right in Bolivian elections

Luis Arce Catacora, new MAS President in Bolivia (Photo: Wikimedia commons/UNCTAD, November 2015)

Delayed elections in Bolivia brought a stunning victory of the left-populist MAS and a crushing defeat for the right and “centre” parties representing the Bolivian ruling class. Luis Arce of the Movimiento al Socialismismo (MAS) was swept into the Presidency with 53.4% of the votes. Carlos Mesa from the right-wing received 31.5% of the votes, and the fascistic Fernando Camacho won 14.1%. The arch-reactionary former “interim” President, Jeanine Anez, saw a collapse of her support and she withdrew from the race following a sex scandal which circulated on social media. (For up to date results: https://computo.oep.org.bo)

This election has major implications for Bolivia and also contains important lessons for the working class internationally. The decisive defeat of the right in the election and come back achieved by the MAS illustrate the limits of reaction, especially where it does not have a solid ideological base of support. In many countries, electoral victories scored by right or even far-right have largely been a protest against the failure of previous governments to resolve the problems facing the working class and the poor.

Luis Arce replaced Evo Morales as the MAS candidate. Morales was ejected from power by a de-facto coup in 2019. He fled into exile to Mexico and then Argentina and was banned from standing in the Bolivian elections.

While in power, Morales changed the rules which prohibited him from seeking re-election. He was accused of winning the 2019 election on the basis of electoral fraud by the right and by the Trump regime in the US and the Organisation of American States. They enthusiastically welcomed the coup initiated by the right-wing in Bolivia, which saw Jeanine Anez sworn in as interim President. Trump denounced Morales for unproven electoral fraud – an allegation which he is preparing to repeat in the US elections should he lose!

Morales had ruled for fourteen years and presided over significant reforms which were carried through on the basis or a period of economic growth dubbed the “miracle”. Overall poverty rates fell by 42% as big sections of the population were lifted out of “poverty”. Morales was the first President from the indigenous community which has suffered vicious discrimination by a ruling elite of European origin . Amerindians are approximately 55% of the population and come from 36 ethnic groups. Around 30% of the population are “mestizos” or mixed, and 15% white. Under Morales, Bolivia was renamed a “plurinational Republic” which was enormously popular. The indigenous Wiphala flag was incorporated into the national flag and used at official ceremonies. The economic boom was on the basis of high commodity prices, including gas exports. Bolivia also has vast reserves of lithium. Morales sold lithium to China which enraged the US and western imperialism, and was a key factor in the orchestrated coup in 2019.

Despite the reforms, Morales did not break with capitalism. He was able to preside over some of the most stable periods in the history of Bolivian capitalism. At the same time, top-down bureaucratic methods were used by him and his government. As the economic boom slowed in recent years, living standards began to decline and dissatisfaction with Morale’s government grew.

The right, with the backing of Trump and the OAS, took advantage and seized power. Rather than mobilise his supporters and call a general strike against the coup, Morales capitulated. Morales fled the country, arguing that he wanted to avoid bloodshed! But the mass protests against the coup continued in Morales’ absence. 

However, protesters were gunned down by the police. An initially all-white cabinet was sworn-in with a massive bible, under a crucifix. The Whipala flag and all indigenous ceremonial symbols were removed. But the right did not have a solid base of support and their coup triggered a reaction from the working class and poor. Fearing defeat, the government twice postponed elections. This provoked the calling of a massive general strike. But this called off by the trade union leadership, which reached an agreement with the arch-reactionary government.

The new victory of the MAS represents a significant and big defeat for the right and also for US imperialism, which wanted the MAS permanently removed from power.

In power but with what programme?

However, the crucial issue is what programme Luis Arce and the new MAS government will adopt now. Arce, an academic economist, who studied at Warwick University in the UK, claims he started reading Marx at the age of 14 years. Acre claims he holds the same “ideological” position. However, as the Finance Minister as part of the Morales MAS government, Acre was not on the left of the party but seen as a “moderating” influence. The reforms he introduced were in a very different economic situation to that which Bolivia faces today. An economic contraction of at least 6% in 2020 is expected. As a warning to workers and the poor, Acre has already stated that while he opposes public expenditure cuts “some austerity measures will be necessary”. He also pledges to govern for “all Bolivians” in the national interest.

The election victory of the MAS is a defeat for the right. However, the reactionaries will bide their time and prepare for a further blow. If the MAS government fails to break with capitalism and introduce a democratic socialist plan of the economy, it will be compelled to carry out attacks on the working class and the poor. The task of building support for such a socialist programme and organisations of the working class that can implement it is now the key task facing the Bolivian working class and oppressed. Otherwise, a stronger reaction can develop. A new chapter in the revolutionary traditions of the Bolivian working class has begun with defeat of the right in the 2020 elections.

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