Who’s Who in the Bolivian Presidential Elections: Anyone New Opposing Morales?

Source: Andean Information Network

Candidates must register by September 7 to participate in the elections. Until this deadline, contenders will actively seek political alliances in an attempt to establish more widespread voter support and funding, calling to mind a desperate singles’ bar scene.  Apparently, postulates continue to seek allies based not upon common principles or proposals, but rather who is most likely to guarantee their election or at least help them defeat Evo Morales. One candidate complained that the opposition bloc “is like a bag of cats clawing at each other to become presidential candidate in the absence of any ideological agreement.” [1]

Reports regarding who intends to run change daily, so it is nearly impossible to accurately determine the formal list of contenders at this time. For example, a leading Cochabamba newspaper, Los Tiempos, ran a headline on August 12 stating that there were “a dozen” candidates, but changed it later in the day to read, “There are now 10 presidential candidates.” As the candidates will shift until the September 7 deadline, the following is an attempt to catalogue information about probable and confirmed participants.

Candidates and Potential Candidates

  • Victor Hugo Cárdenas, The People (Gente): Vice President during the first Sánchez de Lozada term, Cárdenas intends to contribute to a unified opposition bloc and promote “national reunification.”[ii] Of Aymara heritage, he faces harsh criticism among indigenous populations for his perceived “sell-out” to neoliberal policies. It is interesting to note that Cárdenas, long absent from the national spotlight, resurfaced earlier this year as a potential candidate and gained international attention following the violent takeover of his home by indigenous protestors. Cardenas is now campaigning for a new political group called Gente. He seems to be more popular internationally than within Bolivia, receiving special attention from the U.S. due to his former alliance with Sánchez de Lozada.
  • Manfred Reyes Villa: Reyes Villa served as mayor of Cochabamba for four terms. Although elected Prefect of the Cochabamba department in 2006, he was voted out of office in the recall referendum of August 2008. Reyes Villa initially gained regional popularity by carrying out widespread public works projects. He has had less luck in national politics, however, loosing a bid at the presidency in 2002.  He attended the School of the Americas during a short, undistinguished military career. Notably, his NFR party allied with Gonzalo Sánchez Lozada in 2002. He is currently working to achieve alliances with political parties and social movements who generally oppose the MAS government; he has reportedly signed agreements with 27 different groups.[iii]

    Reyes Villa stated he will accept private donations to finance his campaign. Tarija Prefect Mario Cossio announced that CONALDE (an important conservative opposition organization largely comprised of lowland departmental and civic committee leaders) may also support Reyes Villa to create a “united front,” although a meeting to discuss this possibility ended in conflict.

  • Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga (PODEMOS-PDC): On August 13 the leader of the conservative PODEMOS-Democratic Christian party, Gamal Serham, announced that former Bolivian president Tuto Quiroga (2001-2002) would run again. Quiroga is reportedly organizing his campaign team, despite low rankings in recent polls and a sweeping defeat in the 2005 presidential elections. Quiroga and PODEMOS generated widespread criticism from other right-wing political opposition groups for demanding the 2008 Recall Referendum, which confirmed Morales’s mandate and voted out 2 opposition prefects.

    Quiroga paradoxically stated he wants to make Bolivia “the green and clean… heart of South America, and the world capital of lithium batteries.”[iv] He also plans to further social equality, effective law enforcement and corruption eradication. Quiroga announced he would approach this candidacy “firm in my principles, my head full of ideas, my arms open wide and my heart full of hope.”[v] He also openly defines himself as “anti-[Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez.”

  • Alejo Véliz, People for Liberty and Sovereignty (PULSO): Véliz is another campesiono-indigenous candidate. Formerly associated with Morales in the mid-1990s, he later allied with Manfred Reyes Villa during the 2002 elections, gaining a congressional seat. As a result, many voters perceive Véliz as an inconsistent politician who may not ultimately capture many votes.  His current campaign vaguely targets employment issues and claims financial backing from unspecified political groups in Europe and Brazil, perhaps indicating a lack of support at home. He qualified international campaign donations as “unconditioned pledges of support to maintain [Bolivian] democracy.”[vi] In addition, Véliz dubiously claims he receives support from over 80,000 “militant” members of his party who donate between three to fifteen dollars to his campaign every two weeks.[vii]

    On July 6 Véliz signed an agreement with the Confederation of Eastern Bolivian Indigenous Nations (CIDOB) to support his campaign. This move supports his posturing as an indigenous candidate reaching out to groups who have become disillusioned with the MAS administration. Many indigenous leaders complained that the new constitution was not as favorable to indigenous groups as they hoped, and expressed disappointment that the new electoral law failed to guarantee more Congressional seats to their members.

  • Román Loayza: Loayza, a MAS founder, campesino congressman and key MAS representative in the Constituent Assembly left the party after brewing friction in April 2009. He accused Morales of surrounding himself with neoliberal cabinet members and announced his intent to challenge him in the elections.[viii] Loayza also stated that, like Véliz and Doria Medina, his campaign would focus on employment policy issues.

    Although Loayza declared his candidacy for  the Movement of Patriotic Social Unity (MUSPA), this group announced on August 4 that it they had withdrawn their support, “because he does not obey [national] process of change and contradicts the interests of the [common] people”[ix] by courting the middle-class vote.  Furthermore, MUSPA accused Loayza of betraying his political ties and becoming involved with conservative opposition leaders whose opinions vary widely from the party’s agenda. Like several other presidential hopefuls, Loayza must now search for a party or political grouping willing to sponsor his candidacy. It is unclear whether or not he will remain in the race.

  • René Joaquino, Social Alliance (AS): Joaquino is currently the populist mayor of Potosi. His AS party has some interesting proposals, such as employing the concept of complementary opposites in Andean-Amazonic cosmovision as the foundation to seek less confrontational political progress. Filemón Escobar, ex union leader and former MAS senator until he broke from the party in 2005, co-founded AS with Joaquino.
  • Samuel Doria Medina, National Unity (UN): Doria Medina is a wealthy businessman, owning the Bolivian Burger King chain and profitable COBOCE cement company, and heads the moderate National Unity party. He also served as the Minister of Planning under the government of Jaime Paz Zamora (1989-1993), and ran as a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections. “I propose we focus primarily on the economy, job creation and working in the nine departments of the country without provoking confrontation.”[x]
  • Peter Maldonado, National Unity (UN): Maldonado is currently a parliamentary representative for the UN party. He commented that in his opinion, to create a unified opposition block would be a mistake, because it would allow traditional conservative leaders to continue in power, ostensibly because they have the highest likelihood of being reelected. In an apparent bid for media attention, on July 8 he led a group of youth in protest to the main plaza of La Paz, demanding that the government address the job market, his primary campaign concern. Police allegedly removed the group by force.

    Now that Samuel Doria Medina, the founder of UN (previously National Unity Front – or FUN!) has also declared his intentions as a candidate, it is unclear for which party Maldonado would campaign; rumors suggest he has dropped out as a contender, also due to lack of funding and broad voter support.[xi]

  • Hugo San Martín, Alliance for True Democratic Change (AVCD): San Martín is a former congressman for the MNR, although he generally expressed a more moderate stance than his conservative party peers. Although he held a cabinet position during Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s first term (1993-1997), San Martín broke away from him in protest in 2003 and backed Carlos Mesa’s presidency. San Martín announced that he would also run on an employment issues platform targeting the middle class, which he believes believe has been the sector most forgotten in the last three years under the proposals of this Government.”[xii] He advocates “profound economic and social transformation based on the rule of law.”[xiii] San Martín recently indicated his campaign lacks guaranteed financial support.

  • Oscar Ortiz: Ortiz is currently president of the Bolivian Senate and leader of the political party Popular Consensus (CP). Although he has been rumored to entertain the idea of running in the presidential campaign, in an interview posted on his personal website on July 21 he stated that he would not.[xiv]

  • German Antelo, National Revolutionary Movement (MNR): Santa Cruz civic leader Antelo is a physician and past president of the Rural Electric Cooperative (CRE), but has no long history within party politics. Although Antelo publicly remarked that he would only run as part of a “united [opposition] front,” the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) party announced him as its candidate. Some party leaders were unhappy with his appointment and are taking legal action to change internal leadership, casting doubt on the longevity of Antelo’s candidacy. Regardless, the MNR will likely have a difficult time encountering voter support due to low levels of support following the resignation of former party leader, President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
    “United Front” faces nearly insurmountable obstacles
    According to many political analysts in Bolivia, the opposition is terminally divided and concerned with "personal interests."[xv] Campaign rhetoric is heating up as candidates hypocritically accuse one another of sabotaging the chances of a “united front.” For example, upon hearing that Jimena Costa declared her candidacy, Alejo Véliz remarked to the press, "It saddens me that she is fresh meat for Bolivian politics’ hawks and buzzards."[xvi] Reports of failed meetings between opposition candidates seeking to build coalitions circulate regularly among the media channels. Although there are new groups with different discourses there are few fresh options or alternatives. Although less than two weeks remain until the September 7 deadline for candidates to officially declare their campaigns, the final ballot roster remains unpredictable.  

    [i] ABI, "Véliz: Costa ‘me da pena, me entristece; es carne fresca para buitres y halcones’ de la política boliviana." 25 August 2009.
    [ii] La Razón, “Cárdenas inicio una campana en televisión.” 7 July 2009.
    [iii] La Prensa, “El tablero electoral toma forma, hay 7 candidatos presidenciales.” 13 August 2009.
    [iv] Los Tiempos, “Tuto oficializa su candidatura.” 14 August 2009.
    [v] Ibíd.
    [vi] La Razón, “Los opositores buscan recursos para la campana.” 22 June 2009.
    [vii] Ibíd.
    [viii] Los Tiempos, “Román Loayza se aleja de Evo y anuncia posible candidatura a presidente.” 24 April 2009.
    [ix] La Razón, “Muspa retiró la candidatura de Román Loayza.” 4 August 2009.
    [x] Los Tiempos, “Ya son 10 los Candidatos a la Presidencia.” 12 August 2009.
    [xi] La Prensa, “El tablero electoral toma forma, hay 7 candidatos presidenciales.” 13 August 2009.
    [xii] La Razón, “Julio es el mes decisivo en los planes electorales de la oposición.” 6 July 2009.
    [xiii] EFE “Ex ministro de Trabajo boliviano anuncia candidatura para los comicios del 6 diciembre” 22 May 2009.
    [xiv] “Entrevista Periódico Opinión: ‘El desafío no es ganarle a Evo en las elecciones, sino construir un nuevo país.'” 21 July 2009.
    [xv] Los Tiempos, "Oposición quiere frente único, pero sigue dividida." 25 August 2009.  
    [xvi] ABI, "Véliz: Costa ‘me da pena, me entristece; es carne fresca para buitres y halcones’ de la política boliviana." 25 August 2009.