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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crowded presidential field in Bolivia's December elections


President Evo Morales will have seven opponents in the elections scheduled for December. None of them appears to have any real chance to defeat the popular leftist president, Bolivia's first indigenous chief executive. Although it looked for awhile like former vice-president Victor Hugo Cardenas might be able to put together an opposition front, the late-coming decision by Manfred Reyes Villa and jailed Pando Prefect Leopoldo Fernandez to join forces in a conservative front ended Cardenas's chances and he withdrew last week from the race. Cardenas was the only one who had a chance to challenge Evo in La Paz Department, and the Reyes Villa-Fernandez bloc will further divide the country politically.
One of the hopeful signs from the pre-election jockeying is Evo's opening of his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party to moderates, including Ana Maria Campero, the former director of the Presencia newspaper and a nationally known mediator. We'll see if that's a sign of a change of strategy and philosophy or a cynical effort to buy centrist votes. We won't know that until after the election.
A troubling sign is that there was violence and harassment aimed at the opposition candidates as they filed their election papers this week, apparently by organized supporters of the president. And Morales himself has already claimed that the strongest opposition candidates, Reyes Villa and Fernandez, are receiving support from USAID. He offered no evidence to that effect, which is a pattern of this adminstration: to attack opponents with damaging accusations without any evidence.

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