- Title: BOLIVIA: Presidential candidates kickoff their campaigns
- Date: 11th October 2009
- Summary: LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (OCTOBER 10, 2009) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF GROUP SUPPORTING VICE-PRESIDENT ALVARO GARCIA LINERA
- Embargoed: 26th October 2009 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAANGKPZS7O1Z1MPBRX8EI5LO4Q
- Story Text: Incumbent Morales is seen as the strong favorite as opposition leaders scramble to block his MAS party from controlling both houses of the new legislature.
Bolivian presidential candidates kicked off election campaigns Friday (October 09) with public rallies and the airing of political advertisements for elections slated for December 06.
Bolivian President Evo Morales who is the first Bolivian president to run for reelection after a legislative victory approved a new constitution allowing him to do so, will likely ride strong indigenous support to reelection in December but a nascent bloc of right-wing rivals will fight to win control of the legislature.
Morales' popularity hinges on heavy social spending and a new constitution that gives more rights to his Indian powerbase.
As the Andean country's first Indian president, he has already nationalized energy, mining and telecommunications companies and vows to further tighten state control over the economy if he wins.
He spoke to agricultural business leaders about his economic plans on Saturday saying the government must be involved to allow for Bolivian groups to better compete on the world market.
"The neoliberal economic model does not only affect small producers, it also affects big agricultural businesses. Right now, what business, no matter how big, can compete with the large international corporations that receive large subsidies from their governments?" said Morales.
The vice-president and Morales' running mate, Alvaro Garcia Linera, spoke to supporters, many of whom were indigenous, in La Paz on Saturday telling them they need high support in order to move forward with the leftist reforms they started to implement.
"We need to win more than two-thirds [of the vote]. The people need to win more than two-thirds to guarantee the process of change and the big transformations of our country," said Garcia Linera.
Such a resounding victory would mean Morales' domination of the legislature, and would allow his Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, party to pass legislation without having to negotiate with the opposition.
The MAS currently has a majority in the lower house but the opposition's slim Senate majority has blocked dozens of Morales' bills.
But political scientist Marcelo Varnoux says even if Morales is successful in winning control of both chambers he may have trouble passing some laws because of existing contradictions in the new constitution.
"I don't know how effective it will be if MAS controls two-thirds of the Multicultural Assembly if the implementation of their laws are going to meet obstacles," said Varnoux.
Early polls show Morales way ahead of his opposition rivals who are bent on countering him in the new legislature where all seats are up for grabs and includes a lower chamber of 130 seats and an upper house of 36 seats.
Rivals accuse Morales of wanting to amass too much power and of fueling divisions between his Indian supporters in the Andean west and a mixed-race minority in the relatively-prosperous lowlands.
Samuel Doria Medina of the National Unity party has the highest support amongst the opposition candidates but still comes in with less than 10 percent of the electorate.
Social Alliance candidate Rene Joaquino and Manfred Reyes of the Progressive Plan for Bolivia party also have some support.
Reyes has vowed to give eastern regions of the country more autonomy if he wins.
Varnoux says the opposition leaders need to step it up if they hope to block Morales from controlling both houses.
"The opposition candidates have been very timid. I am not sure if this is because of the large number of groups that make up the opposition or a lack of organization or, if they are just now getting the motors revving," added Varnoux.
Morales needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff or more than 45 percent with a 10 point lead on the runner-up.
If reelected, Morales will have to deal with falling export revenues due to lower metals and energy prices than in previous years and dwindling Brazilian demand for natural gas, the country's main revenue earner.
He will also need to tackle a strong pro-autonomy movement in the east where his socialist policies are unpopular.
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