Latin America & the Caribbean: Bolivia
The current democratization process in Bolivia began in 1982 after 18 years of military-based authoritarian rule. Economic disparity, cartel politics, and ethnic and regional divisions have contributed to polarization and instability. The last decade brought widespread citizen protests forcing the departure of multiple presidents before completion of their constitutional terms.
In December 2005 general elections, former coca grower union and indigenous leader Evo Morales won the presidency with an unprecedented majority of the vote. Opposition group Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS) won a plurality in the senate, and Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) won a majority in the lower house. President Morales has moved forward on campaign promises of change, convening a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, nationalizing the hydrocarbon industry, and passing an agrarian reform bill.
Bolivians went to the polls in July 2006 to vote in a national referendum on proposed regional autonomy and to elect 255 constituent assembly delegates. Despite a majority yes vote in four of the nine departments, nationally 54 percent voted against further decentralization. The results highlighted political and socioeconomic fissures in Bolivia and foreshadowed future conflict. MAS won a 54 percent simple majority of assembly seats, but disputes between MAS and opposition parties regarding the rules of procedure delayed Assembly deliberations. Tensions have spilled over into the streets with occasional violence: opposition groups have coordinated protests and hunger strikes over perceived infringements of minority rights; and government sympathizers have in turn taken to the streets.
Elevated citizen expectations of the Morales administration and the constituent assembly’s ability to improve their daily lives – particularly among indigenous and poorer sectors of the population – are feeding frustration with democratic mechanisms for citizen representation and threaten the country’s political stability.
Citizen DialogueNDI’s Citizen Dialogue program aims to dissipate polarization by facilitating dialogue between civil society – particularly indigenous groups – and political parties and elected officials regarding electoral processes and democratic development issues. NDI is conducting a series of community workshops in the departments of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz to provide information regarding elections and political processes, including the Constituent Assembly. Workshop participants have contributed to constructive dialogue and consensus building regarding community concerns.
Political Parties and PovertyThe perceived inability of recent governments to address the problem of widespread poverty has fed public skepticism that party rhetoric will translate into real reforms. In 2004 and 2006, NDI conducted assessments of the incentives for Bolivian political parties to pursue poverty reduction strategies. Assessment findings indicated several measures that could improve the party system’s response to poverty, such as improving internal communication practices, policy coordination mechanisms, and civil service reform. NDI is working to use these findings to facilitate dialogue within parties on the relationship between political reform and advancing efforts to reduce poverty and promote social justice.
Political Party StrengtheningSince 1999, NDI has worked to help Bolivian political parties take steps to become more democratic, transparent and responsive to the needs of Bolivian citizens.
Responding to requests for technical assistance, NDI worked with political parties to strengthen mechanisms of internal dialogue, transparency and outreach in compliance with the 1999 Political Party Law, including training on the themes of internal democracy, transparency and outreach to new sectors.
To assist parties in their candidate recruitment practices, NDI implemented a nationwide women’s leadership school, Winning with Women, which trained more than 2,000 women on political leadership skills and campaign strategies for the 2004 municipal elections, and responsible municipal management practices.
Prior to the 2005 general elections, NDI coordinated presidential platform debates with candidates’ parties in several departments, and assisted parties and their prefect and congressional candidates to discuss and develop responsive platforms. In preparation for the July 2006 electoral processes, NDI conducted informational seminars that increased the awareness of more than 7,000 participants regarding the constituent assembly and regional autonomy processes. NDI coordinated constituent assembly candidate debates in several departments that allowed for broad debate of key campaign issues. NDI also facilitated exchanges between parties and constitutional experts from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela to share lessons learned from their constitutional reform experiences.
The inclusion of marginalized groups, such as women, youth and indigenous peoples, has been an overarching theme of NDI’s work with political parties. To encourage greater participation among these sectors, NDI conducted dialogue and proposal development workshops prior to both the 2005 and 2006 electoral processes with representatives of these sectors. NDI also conducted multiparty youth leadership seminars that provided participants with tools and skills to promote democratic reform within their respective parties and organizations.
Past NDI Programs
Program for Regional Party Renewal (PREPA)Using participatory training methodologies, NDI prepared 40 party trainers from eight parties, including Nationalist Democratic Action (ADN), Movement to Socialism (MAS), Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (MIP), Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), Movement Without Fear (MSM), Democratic Christian Party (PDC), and National Unity (UN). These trainers have in turn used these methodologies with their parties on the topics of internal democracy, transparency, and outreach to new sectors.
Political Leadership ProgramNDI engaged 25 youth party members in its regional Political Leadership Program from 2000 to 2003. Participants represented the ADN, Free Bolivia Movement (MBL), MIR, MNR, New Republican Force (NFR), and Civic Solidarity Union (UCS). NDI launched this program to strengthen the leadership skills and ability of emerging political leaders to promote the modernization and renewal of political parties. Following a rigorous selection process, the one-year program began with an intensive leadership development seminar and continued in-country with the emerging leaders implementing party-strengthening projects.
For further information on NDI’s programs in Bolivia, please contact:
Alison Miranda, Program Officer for Bolivia programs
Michel Rowland, Resident Senior Program Manager in La Paz
Updated April 2007