Friday, June 10, 2005

New President, New Hopes?

Carlos Mesa's presidency in Bolivia finally ended when the Congress decided to accept his resignation. Mesa’s, the most recent “interrupted presidency” in the long lineage of “interrupted presidencies” in the poorest country in South America, was an actor of a process that put the country at the brink of civil war and, eventually, of its disintegration.

The independent movement based in Santa Cruz, the wealthiest province in Bolivia, has achieved an unexpected level of support that has created expectations about a possible quick, easy solution to the longstanding problems or poverty and marginalization that have plagued the country since its very origins.

So far, it is not clear if the recently appointed president, Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, the former Chief Justice of Bolivia’s Supreme Court, will be able to carry the reforms he has sketched so far. What is necessary to keep in mind is that there is no easy way out to Bolivia’s legacy of poverty and institutional conflict. In addition, at least in the coming days, Rodríguez Veltzé will be forced to perform his duties as president under the same rules and with the same institutional design that damaged Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s and Carlos Mesa’s presidencies.

Moreover, that institutional design has been behind the long chain of “interrupted presidencies,” coups, and political instability that has plagued Bolivia’s history in the twentieth century.

So far, his main proposal implies a significant change in the institutional design: moving the country from a central presidential design, into something similar to a federal presidential system although interestingly enough I have not been able to find specific references to a reform aimed to move Bolivia from its status as a centralist regime into a federalist one.

It is important to stress that he has been appointed for a very short, six-month term, which will give him little or no effective power to carry away the kind of deep reforms that Bolivia needs at this point. The risk, of course is that his presidency could end up becoming some sort of lame duck and that the truce he requested will be actually granted just as a way to set the stage for the new presidential election. And here a painful remainder, such election will be affected (unless an overhaul of the electoral system is achieved before Christmas), once again, by the institutional design flaws (ballotage, as an example) that explain Bolivia’s never ending crisis.

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