News: High number of invalid votes in Bolivia´s first judicial elections
17 October 2011
Dario Kenner, La Paz
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An early exit poll by IPSOS indicates overall there were probably around 39% of valid votes cast in Bolivia´s first ever judicial elections. 28 members of the judiciary were elected. 45% of votes are estimated to be null while 16% were blank. The survey has a 6% margin of error. It will take around a week to have the final results. Reports say there was a high turnout among the 5.2 million people registered to vote.
While not being elections directly for the President or Plurinational Assembly these elections have been billed as a plebiscite on the current popularity of the Evo Morales government. Bolivian media have pointed out this is the first election the government has lost (pending confirmation of the results) since coming to power with 54% of the vote in 2005. Morales and his government recorded high levels of support in 2008 (67% in a recall referendum) and in 2009 (64% in the general elections).
Eugenio Rojas, Senator for the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party led by President Evo Morales, said the government would reflect on the results and listen to this message from the population.
Bolivians were voting for members of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Tribunal, the Judiciary Council, and the National Agrarian and Environmental Tribunal. This analysis by Andean Information Network explains the process and discusses the controversial issues surrounding the elections.
Andean Information Network writes, “Other critics claim that the judicial elections are merely a vehicle for Morales to solidify personal control over the judiciary in order to “legalize” his initiatives and policies and attack his political opponents, many of who already face legal charges. Yet, the MAS-dominated legislature could have directly filled all the seats under the previous system, which selected high court justices though a two-thirds congressional vote”.
A positive step forward is that 50% of the candidates were female and there were many indigenous candidates.
Opposition political parties, who do not have a national project and would therefore not win a Presidential or Legislative election, have used the judicial elections as an opportunity to attack the Evo Morales government. Politicians such as Juan del Granado (Movimiento Sin Miedo) and Samuel Doria Medina (Unidad Nacional) have been very vocal and called on the population to annul their votes as a protest against the Morales government. In reality what look like high results of null and blank votes are not all for these parties as much as they would like to claim the credit. There are other factors that have contributed to the results.
The most common comment on the elections is that there was not enough information available about who the candidates were.
Another factor is the current crisis of legitimacy. After three weeks the government has still not publicly said who gave an order for 500 riot police to break up a peaceful march on 25 September by indigenous movements opposed to a road project through the TIPNIS autonomous indigenous territory and national park.
Minister of Autonomies Claudia Peña said on Radio Erbol the police violence had affected the outcome but that we would have to wait for the final results to have a full picture of what had happened. Peña also said this was a time when a new agenda (as proposed by President Morales on12 October) would have to be discussed.
The on-going TIPNIS conflict has certainly had an impact on these judicial elections with the march by indigenous movements´ expected to arrive in the next few days in La Paz. Since the indigenous march began on 15 August the issue has led to divisions across Bolivian society with pro government and pro TIPNIS protests.
The popularity of the Morales government was also dented earlier in 2011 when nationwide protests forced a reversal of the policy known as the gasolinazo.
In a brief message President Morales decided to focus on the process rather than the results of the elections. He said there had been a big change in the justice system because millions of Bolivians had chosen members of the judiciary instead of just 157 parliamentarians – in a reference to old corrupt practices. He acknowledged there could have been more information about the candidates.
President Evo Morales brief press conference (Video in Spanish) on the elections.