Bolivia: Morales names MAS party candidates for May election

Ex-Economy Minister Arce and ex-Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to each run for president and vice president.

Luis Arce Catacora
Luis Arce Catacora talks with Evo Morales during a ceremony at the presidential palace in La Paz, in 2012 [File: David Mercado/Reuters]

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales on Sunday named a former economy minister and former foreign minister as his party’s respective candidates for president and vice president in Bolivia‘s upcoming elections.

Speaking at a news conference in Argentina, Morales announced Luis Arce as the Movement to Socialism (MAS) presidential candidate and David Choquehuanca as his running mate for the May 3 election.

Morales named the candidates after meeting with senior MAS party officials in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, where Morales has been living since accepting asylum. 

The choice of candidates, observers say, reflects the direction MAS is taking, after months of political turmoil in the South American country following the disputed October 20 elections.

“Arce is targeting the middle classes that the MAS has alienated, and Choquehuanca is targeting the indigenous working class organisations that support MAS in the highlands,” said Jorge Derpic, assistant professor in Sociology, Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Georgia.

“And that’s significant,” Derpic said.

When Morales won his first election in 2006, he ushered in a new era for South America’s poorest country. The economy experienced unprecedented growth and poverty rates were slashed, especially among indigenous communities. But Morales, who led Bolivia for 14 years, also alienated many Bolivians, especially middle-class voters by insisting on running for a fourth term in office, in defiance of a 2016 referendum against extending term limits. Allegations of corruption and mismanagement also dogged his time in office.

Translation: Our duo: Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca is a combination of scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge, the unity of the countryside and the city, of the body and the soul. We have a political liberation project that has proven that a different Bolivia is possible.

Morales resigned in November after a disputed fourth-term victory sparked outrage and an audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) found serious irregularities in the vote count. He says he was the victim of an orchestrated coup. He is barred from running for president.

MAS is now hoping to maintain their popularity in the country’s long-held stronghold regions, including the highlands, rural Potosi, in the central valleys and the city of Cochabamba. But the party is also looking to appeal to voters among the middle class.

“The MAS may be able to win the election with these two candidates,” Derpic said.

Arce, 56, served as finance minister under Morales. A well-respected economist educated in the United Kingdom, he is credited with presiding over economic policies that brought on unprecedented boom to the Andean nation.

Choquehuanca, 58, who served as foreign minister under Morales for more than 10 years, was born in Bolivia’s highlands. He is also well-respected and is considered a moderate. He is a veteran indigenous rights advocate.

“It will be difficult for the MAS to gain the support of the entire middle class,” said Raul Penaranda, a journalist and political analyst based in Bolivia.

“But Arce is an option who will appeal to a sector which the MAS has lost over the past decade,” Penaranda said. 

Former Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca attends an ALBA-TCP alliance meeting in Caracas, Venezuela [FIle: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters] 

Penaranda adds that Choquehuanca, will help maintain support among indigenous groups.

“It’s an intelligent electoral decision,” Penaranda told Al Jazeera.

According to Bolivia’s electoral rules, the ticket for the May election must be formally submitted to the electoral tribunal by February 3. MAS is expected to hold an official naming ceremony on January 22.

In an opinion poll, published on January 2, Bolivians were asked to choose their preferred candidate. Twenty percent of those polled chose a MAS candidate. About 15.6 percent said interim President Jeanine Anez was their preferred candidate, while Carlos Mesa, the runner-up in the October vote, received 13.8 percent support.

Luis Fernando Camacho, a right-wing civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who emerged from obscurity to become a symbol of the opposition against Morales during weeks of unrest, only received 7 percent support. The right-wing leader, who often invokes biblical references, became one of the most vocal voices demanding Morales’ resignation and has said he will run for president.

Anez, a 52-year-old conservative, became interim president amid a power vacuum following Morales’ resignation. She has said she has no plans to run for president, but has called on opposition political parties to unite to defeat MAS.

Divisions within MAS

There are signs of disagreements within the MAS party, however. 

In January, Morales retracted his call for the organisation of militias after his comments sparked an outcry by the interim government.

Last week, MAS officials told Reuters news agency the ticket would include Andronico Rodriguez, a young coca farmer, who was close with the former president. 

Luis Fernando Camacho
Luis Fernando Camacho speaks to supporters from a police car in La Paz, Bolivia [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

With Morales managing the campaign from his exile in Argentina, often creating tensions, analysts say there is a danger that the party could fracture and face challenges in May. 

“The vast electorate is not going to vote for the MAS and is not going to vote for anybody named by the MAS party,” said Eduardo Gamarra, professor of political science in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University.

“They want a change and the change is probably favouring Luis Fernando Camacho – he is going to be the beneficiary of this,” Gamarra added.

Source: Al Jazeera