A rainbow of campaign posters covered the stairways and tinted glass walls in the Bolivian Congress building. After arriving in the crowded office lobby of leftist Congressman Gustavo Torrico, I sat for hours next to union leaders and other rank-and-file constituents, waiting to speak with the politician.
Torrico was meeting with members of the Bolivian Workers Center, one of the largest unions in the country. When I finally sat down on the couch in his dimly lit office, the smiling Congressman explained one of the key reasons for the success of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the party he and indigenous President Evo Morales helped construct.
“We choose political ideas from below and move those politics upward,” he said. “Social organizations are important to us because they are our essence. Without social organizations, we would not exist.”
It was largely this dynamic relationship with the country’s powerful unions, social organizations and movements that led to the December 6 re-election of Morales with 63 percent of the vote, according to exit polls; his closest rival, conservative former governor Manfred Reyes Villa, won just 23 percent of the vote. Voters also gave MAS more than two-thirds control of both houses of Congress, a broad mandate to meet the needs and demands of the party’s national base. The coming months will say a lot about the administration’s goals and obstacles as it begins, in the words of Morales after his re-election, to “accelerate the process of change.”
During Morales’s first four years in office, various indigenous, farmer and workers movements were pivotal in defeating right-wing destabilization efforts, passing land reform legislation, radicalizing government policy and ushering in a new progressive Constitution. At the same time, defending the MAS against the oligarchy and right wing often took precedence over self-criticism and internal debate; those who seriously questioned the MAS were sometimes labeled allies of the right and sidelined.
Now, with opposition parties extremely weak and divided, this internal censorship will, hopefully, be swept aside to allow for more vigorous analysis of the MAS from the inside out. As Bolivian sociologist Oscar Vega wrote in a recent column for the state-run newspaper Cambio (Change), “It’s no longer a matter of supporting and defending the [MAS] vision of change, but democratically constructing the change through participation, debate and consultation.”
If such an internal debate comes to the fore, prominent demands from party members are likely to include calls to radicalize economic measures, make the management of ministries more participatory and delegate power away from Morales and toward a less centralized system of decision-making.
Perhaps more significant, the landslide victory and two-thirds majority in Congress will allow the MAS to pass new legislation that had regularly been blocked by the right during Morales’s first term. The MAS has promised to pass 100 new laws in order to apply a broad spectrum of changes in the new Constitution–a document rewritten in a constituent assembly and passed in a national referendum in January.
It’s difficult to say what of the many plans will be prioritized in the coming months, but land reform, expansion of indigenous rights and participation in government, and the fight against corruption are key areas. Other policy initiatives include securing more state control over natural resource development and exploitation and directly redistributing the wealth from nationalized gas reserves to impoverished sectors of the population through such programs as stipends to students, mothers and the elderly. New revenue from state-run industries will also enable the MAS to continue improving roads and expanding access to basic services, education and healthcare.