Ballots defeated bullets, what’s next in Bolivia?

The MAS has overcome incredible challenges this year. Now it will have to navigate the disastrous Covid-19 pandemic, rising fascism and an economic downturn.

Against all odds, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won the 18 October elections in Bolivia with 55.1% of the vote. This is even better than Evo Morales did in 2005, when he gathered 53.75% of the votes. It gives MAS president-elect Lucho Arce one of the biggest mandates in Bolivian history, and is in part a major endorsement of MAS policies and its 14 years in power.

The election took place a year after a coup overthrew former MAS president Morales and installed right-wing senator Jeanine Áñez in power. Under Áñez and her notorious minister Arturo Murillo, the government repressed dissidents and anti-coup activists, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of people in massacres in Sacaba and Senkata, Bolivia, in November last year. They politically persecuted MAS figures, allies and leftist activists over a tumultuous year leading up to the recent election.

The MAS victory is a clear rejection of the racist coup government. Áñez tried to push the MAS down, but the party and its diverse base of supporters rose up and won.

The movements that defended democracy over this past year brought Bolivia to this historic moment. For weeks in August, massive road blockade protests organised by MAS-allied campesino, Indigenous and labour groups successfully pressured authorities to hold elections after months of delays.

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Following its resounding victory at the polls, the MAS will enter government next month, raising many crucial questions.

How much will the party leadership change? The crisis of the past year has resulted in a diversity of new leadership rising up through the party ranks. For example, young MAS cocalero leaders Andrónico Rodríguez and Leonardo Loza were just elected as senators in Cochabamba.

How will the MAS address critiques from the Left? Vice president-elect David Choquehuanca is largely considered a representative of the more critical left wing of the MAS party, which is oriented more directly by the grassroots base of labour, campesino and Indigenous organisations. This is a sign that the MAS leadership may strengthen its relationship with its bases and further democratise the party’s ties to social movements.

What will Morales’ role be? Following the electoral victory, Arce said Morales will not have a role in the new government but is welcome to return to Bolivia from Argentina, where he took refuge following last year’s coup.

Will the Right accept political defeat in the government and in the streets? Presidential candidate Carlos Mesa, Áñez and the Organization of American States all notably accepted the MAS victory. However, the right-wing Comité Cívico pro Santa Cruz, coup leader Fernando Camacho and other anti-MAS groups have rejected the MAS victory. Considering the actions of racist, paramilitary groups in the country over the past year, it is likely they will continue to foment unrest in Bolivia.

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These are major questions guiding the coming months. The fact that they will be addressed with the MAS in power makes all the difference.

The MAS has adapted to and overcome incredible challenges this year. Now it will have to navigate the disastrous Covid-19 pandemic, rising fascism in the country and an economic downturn. They have a historic mandate to carry out this work on behalf of all Bolivians, not just the oligarchy and racists who were just defeated at the ballot box.

This article was first published in Roar Magazine.

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