Luis Arce, candidate of the Movement for Socialism (MAS), Evo Morales’ party, has enough support from voters to stop the attempts at political and social change that have been underway in Bolivia since the former president was ousted last November. With less than a month to go before the October 18 elections, the opinion studies that enjoy the greatest credibility among MAS’s rivals estimate that Arce meets the two requirements necessary to win without the need for a second round: he has more than 40% of the voting intention and surpasses his immediate follower, former president Carlos Mesa, by more than ten percentage points. Mesa appears in the latest survey – which collects the climate of rural areas better than the previous ones – with 26% of the preference.
One of the political leaders antievistas he immediately took into account the implications of this measurement. The day after these data were known, on September 17, the country’s interim president, Jeanine Áñez, resigned her candidacy so that “the democratic vote is not divided among several candidates and, as a result of this division, the MAS ends up winning the election.” In the poll, Áñez appeared in fourth place and was one of the political personalities most rejected by the population after accelerating her wear and tear due to the management of health services and the economy during the pandemic.
So far the president has not indicated to her followers, approximately 10% of the electorate, if she will vote for Mesa, stronger in the western part of the country, or by the third, the ultra-conservative Luis Fernando Camacho, who is the favorite of the eastern zone. Former vice presidential candidate Samuel Doria Medina explained that they would support “anyone who has the possibility of stopping the MAS.” This businessman leads one of the parties of the coalition that nominated Áñez. In contrast, the president’s political organization, the Social Democratic Movement, with roots in the eastern part of the country, could be pressured to support Camacho, the main regional candidate, even if pre-election polls place him below Mesa. With this, the exit of interim president from the electoral race does not ensure that the vote against the MAS is concentrated. According to Doria Medina, the return to power of the leftist party would bring “revenge, persecution of the Democrats, arrest of those who fought in the streets. [contra el anterior Gobierno] and a ‘war’ between regions ”.
The political elite that fiercely opposed Morales and pushed for his overthrow also want to rid themselves of his legacy. It seeks to attenuate the statism of the economic model, return to the “republic” instead of the Plurinational State created by the 2009 Constitution, form a more technical and, therefore, also more elitist bureaucracy, and cancel the country’s diplomatic alignment with enemies of States United like Cuba and Iran, among other transformations. It has the backing of the Armed Forces and the Police, and it could promote the support of the majority of the population for its program, but it cannot overcome its internal division, which is due to personal and regionalist causes.
According to the public opinion expert Julio Córdova, after Áñez’s departure from the stage, and taking into account that around 20% of the population is still doubting who to vote for, the existence of three relatively isolated electoral spaces can be observed, which hardly votes will be transferred to each other. In the first space are the urban and rural lower classes. The voters of this space will vote for Arce, although others groups stopped supporting MAS for their mistakes in the Government and now they are undecided. If the elections were immediate, these groups would vote mainly blank or annul the ballot, since they “do not plan to vote for candidates from the right. MAS’s bet is to persuade them to support it again.
In a second space are the “moderate middle classes”, especially in the west of the country. Voters of these classes are going to vote for Mesa or are undecided because “they doubt the strength of the former president to stop the MAS and do not see in him a new option that gives them hope,” explains Córdova. Mesa’s bet is to get these undecided to lean towards the “useful vote.” That is, supporting one candidate to prevent another from winning.
Finally, there is a third space in which are the “very conservative and regionalist middle classes, especially from Santa Cruz”, who are going to vote for Camacho. Among them, the percentage of undecided is lower, so Córdova believes that Camacho will not lose support due to the “useful vote” and that “he will benefit more than Añez’s former voter table.” If this were the case, the MAS could maintain an advantage of more than ten percentage points over the former president and, then, win in the first round.
Historian Pablo Stefanoni summarizes the factors that will determine the outcome of the elections: “It seems that these will be defined between the ‘useful vote’ and the ‘hidden vote’,” he says. “Carlos Mesa is betting that the ‘useful vote’ works as in 2019 and serves to attract anti-MAS suffrage from the eastern part of the country. For the moment, the regionalization of the candidacies limits the possibilities of this strategy ”, he explains. On the other hand, the MAS expects a strong flow of “hidden vote”In other words, the support that is not measured in the polls because citizens fear expressing it or are ashamed of it in public, a type of vote that the leftist party has always had, although in different proportions. “Given the climate of judicial persecution against the MAS, the hypothesis that among the undecided there are many votes for Arce is not unrealistic,” explains Stefanoni. He concludes that “nothing is written and it will be a very open-ended campaign, in which small percentages could be decisive”.