Bolivia: A Judicial Election Without Campaigning

Sunday, October 16 is Election Day across Bolivia. However, this election is quite different from past elections. Noticeable are the lack of posters, painted walls, and public rallies that are typical of Bolivian elections. Candidates have been prohibited from public campaigning, and had to rely on limited media interviews and spots recorded by the Plurinational Electoral Organ [es].

What is also different for this election is that it will not determine a President, members of Congress, or local Mayors. For the first time in Bolivia, as well as in Latin America, voters will choose 56 judges and magistrates for the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of the Judiciary, and Agrarian/Environmental Tribunal.

These elections have been guaranteed by the new Constitution with the idea to eliminate the direct naming of judges by the political party that holds majority in Congress, as had previously been the practice. Even though there was a process to allow for objections to certain candidates that could not prove affiliation to a political party, many citizens believe that the ruling party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS for its initials in Spanish) will end up benefiting from the results.

Some of those sentiments come from a statement from Bolivian President Evo Morales in August 2011 at an event in Tolata, who said “I am sure, brothers and sisters, that in these Judicial Elections we'll win with 60 to 70 percent and with 90 to 100 percent in the peasant communities. [es]” There have been some reports of irregularities in the selection process [es], as well as the question of the impartiality of Supreme Electoral Tribunal President, Wilfredo Ovando, who was discovered to have strong ties to the MAS party from his recent campaigning during the re-election of Morales.

Twitter user Gastón (@gastulas) is skeptical about the candidates’ independence and tweets [es]:

“googleen” el nombre de cualquier candidato en las #judiciales2011 y verán su “imparcialidad”. Vergüenza y asco! #YoVotoNulo

Just “google” the name of any candidate for the judicial elections and you'll see their “impartiality” How disgusting and what a shame! #YoVotoNulo (I'm Voting Null)

However, the general sentiment is that it was very difficult to know the candidates because of the lack of campaign information. Journalist and blogger Andrés Gómez Vela categorizes the various types of voters that could turn out. For example, in his blog Rimay Pampa [es], he characterizes the “legal vote” by those well-informed citizens:

…aquellas que siguieron las fugaces entrevistas a los 116 candidatos y candidatas y se documentaron sobre los antecedentes y méritos de sus preferidos. En otras palabras, los que decidieron soberanamente su voto (¿habrá al menos uno?).

…those people that followed the quick interviews of the 116 candidates and documented their background and merits of their preferred candidates. In other words, those that decide his or her vote sovereignly. (will there be at least one?).

He also notes that there will also be voters that decide based on political party, who have been told for whom to vote. Gómez also refers to votes by those who have no clue for whom to vote because of not knowing the candidates, and will do so by intuition. There have been those that have come out against the elections and will mark the ballot in protest of the government's attempt to build a highway through the TIPNIS, which is called the “environment vote,” as well as the “protest” and “opposition” vote. Finally he characterizes the “conscious” vote and describes it by:

Es la ciudadanía que se precia de ser reflexiva y leer la política desde la realidad. Unos apoyaron el proceso sin ambages, otros con reparos, otros con cálculo y otros con visión histórica. Algunos están arrepentidos y otros decepcionados y otros desorientados. Alistan su marcador negro o rojo para escribir: Fuera, basta, adiós o alguna leyenda contra Evo. Su voto será nulo para el Órgano Electoral, pero, válido para la sociedad.

It is the citizens who profess to be thoughtful and read politics from the viewpoint of reality. Some supported the “process” [the Government's process of change] unambiguously, others objected, others calculated, and others [supported it] with historical vision. Some are repentant and others are disappointed and others are confused. They are ready with their black or red magic marker to write: Get out, enough, good-bye or some other phrase against Evo. Their vote will be null for the Electoral Organ, but it will be valid for society.

While it has been prohibited to campaign for individual candidates, it has been unclear whether the opposition leaders’ campaign for a No or Null Vote is allowed. Nevertheless, it has been a position held by many Twitter users, who have been announcing that they plan to vote Null. Social science researcher Roberto Laserna (@roblaser) tweeted:

Conozco a todos los candidatos #Judiciales2011: se prestaron a esta grosera manipulación y eso los define. Son indignos de mi voto. Nulo!

I know all of the candidates #Judiciales2011 (Judicial Elections 2011): they lent themselves to this gross manipulation and that defines them. They are unworthy of my vote. Null!

Finally, there has been some documents floating around the internet, as Miguel Buitrago of the blog MABB notes, that indicates the different options how one must mark the ballot in order for it to be considered null. Some may include writing the word TIPNIS in reference to the controversial highway project through an indigenous territory and national park supported by the government, while others have considered writing “Fuera Quinteros” (Out, Quinteros), in reference to the Bolivian football National Team that recently had a poor showing in World Cup 2014 Qualifying matches. Twitter user (@ch0ben) recently wrote [es]:

Nunca he reflexionado tanto sobre la manera más efectiva de anular una papeleta electoral… Es lo que nos toca en estas circunstancias.

Never have I thought so much about the most effective manner to null an electoral ballot… It is what corresponds to us in these circumstances.
Thumbnail image by César Catalán on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)


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