Posted by: Maher | August 31, 2007

IRI: Bolivia Program Overview


Advancing Democracy in Bolivia


In October 2005, the International Republican Institute (IRI) re-opened its office in La Paz to launch a civic education program involving civil groups throughout the country. The main focus of the program is to reach first- and second- time voters to help those with little voting experience understand and differentiate between types of elections and learn how to select candidates who best represent their interests.

Beginning in December 2005 Bolivia has had a series of elections that have set the agenda of IRI’s program. Initially the program focused on the general election that took place in December 2005. IRI produced How to Vote, a pamphlet that educated citizens on the voting process for the general elections. A second pamphlet, How to Choose a Candidate, recommended effective mechanisms to help citizens learn more about the candidates and their campaign platforms.

For the Constituent Assembly elections in July 2006, IRI created a Citizen School to address the essential issues pertaining to the elections. IRI also assisted the participants in organizing civic education activities and creating a Citizen Advisory Board to monitor the issues discussed by candidates. The advisory board was composed of analysts, political party members, Citizen School participants and other civil society members.

After the Constituent Assembly was sworn in, IRI continued the Citizen Advisory Board’s activities to provide a venue for public interaction and participation in the legislative process. Citizen Advisory Boards currently meet in six different cities to analyze and discuss legislation moving through the Constituent Assembly. At the end of each month, the boards present an analysis of draft legislation and its potential impact on citizens. Activities of the boards and reports are made available at the board’s web site Bolivia Citizen Advisory Board.

In an effort to further support democratic values in Bolivia, IRI began a civic tolerance campaign. As its main instrument for instruction, IRI produced a manual on tolerance that promotes an appreciation of diversity and multiculturalism and the capacity to work and coexist with people who are different was created.

With the help of local partners and trainers, a series of trainings using the manual were held. The trainings have been held for civil society organizations, elementary schools teachers, university students and even for inmates of a federal prison. At the university level, IRI created a series of debates between 12 universities in four cities. The semi-final and final debates had the full involvement of students and professors and attracted the interest of national television networks.

A television campaign was also developed reaching approximately 60 percent of the Bolivian population.

Bolivia’s Road to Democracy

Although a process of democratic consolidation was begun in the 1980s, Bolivia’s turbulent history continues to make its mark on politics. In October 2003, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned 14 months after taking office. Ethnic conflicts, coupled with plans for a tax hike and the nationalization of natural gas, led to deadly riots in 2003. Vice President Carlos Mesa assumed office and restored order. After a brief time, however, demonstrations quickly resumed, particularly in La Paz and El Alto and President Mesa was forced to resign in June 2005. Eduardo Rodriguez, the Supreme Court president, assumed office in a constitutional transfer of power and called for early elections within six months (December 18, 2005).

In December 2005, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) leader Evo Morales won the presidency with a historic 54.3 percent of the vote – the widest margin of any leader since the restoration of civilian rule in 1982. Morales promised to alter the country’s traditional political class structure and empower the nation’s poor majority by nationalizing the energy sector, re-examining the current coca eradication programs and vowing to decriminalize coca growing. Morales was also highly critical of the “neo-liberal” economic policies that have been implemented in Bolivia over the past two decades.

On May 1, 2006, Morales fulfilled one of his campaign promises by announcing his intent to re-nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbon assets. Foreign energy companies were given 180 days to sign new contracts giving the Bolivian government a majority ownership and as much as 82 percent of revenues.

Acting on another campaign promise, Morales directed the Constituent Assembly to begin the process of writing a new constitution aimed at giving more power to the indigenous majority. The process, however, has faced numerous problems and the body continues to become more polarized. Both the opposition coalition and the ruling MAS party continue to dispute the rules and voting procedures for writing the document. Civil unrest due to the lack of progress continues to grow and has led to protests throughout Bolivia.

Bolivia still has a long way to go. In light of the social unrest and subsequent democratic crisis, enhancing capacity so that institutions are more transparent, efficient and accessible; promoting the implementation of a law that addresses greater access to information; and building local government capacity are all necessary for a transparent and effective democracy in Bolivia.

Publications and Program Highlights

Summer/Fall 2007

Bolivia’s Citizen Advisory Boards Keep Public Informed, p. 7, Advancing Democracy


IRI Helps to Educate Citizens on National Constitutional Referendum, Summer 2006


IRI Develops Civic-education Manual with Ministry of Education


IRI Host International Conference on Education Reforms


IRI Supports Voter Education Campaign for Gas Referendum


IRI Launches Bolivia Program with Politics and Politicians in Bolivia Forum


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