Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Evo Morales reelected for the third term as President of Bolivia

The reelection of Evo Morales as Bolivia's President in the recent elections is a recognition of his success in emancipating the poor indigenous people of the country and economic management of the country. It is also a an inspiration and matter of pride for the indigenous people of the whole of Latin America as well that of the world.

Evo Morales reelected for the third term as President of Bolivia

President Evo Morales swept the elections with over 60% of the votes, easily defeating his nearest rival  Samuel Doria Medina who got just 25% in the elections held on 12 October. His party Movement for Socialism (MAS) got more than two thirds majority in the Congress. Morales had won with 53.7% votes in 2005 and with 64.2% in 2009. He is the first President who has won in the first round with such a large majority in the last forty years.

There are many explanations for the success of Morales, who has become the longest-serving Bolivian President. But the simplest is the fact that he is from the poor native indigenous community while his main opponent is a rich white businessman. The indigenous people form 60% of the Bolivian population and they are the poorest. The whites form 15% of the population and are well-off. What is surprising is that despite being the majority in the population, the natives were completely marginalized and discriminated politically and economically for the last five centuries by the people of European-origin. It was Evo Morales who ended this historic domination by becoming the first indigenous President. 

After coming to power in 2006, Evo Morales set about correcting the injustice by putting the indigenous people on the top of his agenda and improved their lives. He has changed the constitution which institutionalizes the empowerment of the indigenous people recognising their traditions and culture. 

It was due to Evo Morales that the number of people below poverty line has come down by 32% from 2000 to 2012. A report*of UNDP has put Bolivia as the most successful in reducing poverty in the last decade in Latin America.

Although the west has labelled him as a radical leftist, Morales has managed the economy prudently and pragmatically. He has financed his pro-poor programmes with the increase in revenue from exports, taxes and better financial management. He has ensured fiscal surplus every year since 2006. The GDP of Bolivia has grown an average of five percent from 2006 to 2013**. It grew by 6.8% in 2013 and is projected to grow by 5.5% in 2014 and 5% in 2015. The foreign exchange reserves have increased from about 3 billion dollars in 2006 to 14 billion in May 2014. The inflation of the country which in the eighties had touched five digits has been brought down to 6-7%. The lending rate is a decent 7 % in contrast to the double digit rates in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. External debt has been controlled and kept at 7.7 billion dollars without any significant increase from the 6.2 billion figure of 2006. Financial Times of 15 October*** has said, ' Mr Morales may well be Latin America's most successful socialist presidents ever'.

Bolivia has never had such a long period of political stability and economic growth as it has experienced in the last eight years under President Morales. The country which is the poorest in South America had been notorious for coups and political instability. 36 of the 83 governments in the past had lasted a year or less. Between 2001 and 2005 there were five Presidents.

Understandably, the white politicians and businessmen have not reconciled to the democratic logic of a President elected from the majority of the population. They have been plotting along with obvious outside support to destabilize Morales' government in the last eight years. The rich province of Santa Cruz, along with a few others, even tried separation from La Paz. But Morales has survived due to the solid support of the indigenous people and to the support given by the South American Union UNASUR

The United States is unhappy with the coca leaf worshipping Morales who has stopped the forced eradication of coca farms in the country and calls himself as the 'worst nightmare of US'. One of the US ambassadors had campaigned against Morales in the previous elections and he retaliated by expelling him and closing the offices of the US Drug Enforcement Agency office and US Aid. Morales stood upto even Lula and the mighty Petrobras and managed to get a higher price for the gas exported to Brazil. 

He has been campaigning for the global recognition of the legal rights of people in his country to grow coca which is considered as a sacred plant and consumed by Bolivians like betel leaves and tea in India. The UN Narcotics Control Agency, with the support of the cocaine consuming countries, have been against his move.

Morales comes from a poor family and rose as a  leader of the coca-cultivators union. He continues to live as a simple person with, of course, the Latino passion for football. Even now he plays football as member of a Bolivian team.

Bolivia was in the spotlight in India when Naveen Jindal went there announcing a two billion dollar investment in the El Mutun iron ore project. Unfortunately it was a failure due to faults on both the sides. India's trade with Bolivia is not significant but there is good scope to increase exports.

The victory of Evo Morales is not only cherished by the native Bolivians but it is also an inspiration and matter of pride for the forty million indigenous people of Latin America as well as those in the rest of the world. Last month Morales was the guest of honor at the international conference of the indigenous peoples of the world organized by the United Nations in New York.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Brazilian Presidential elections on 5 October extend to a second round on 26 October

Since none of the candidates got the required fifty percent majority in the Brazilian Presidential elections held on 5 October, there will be a second round on 26 October between the centre-left President Dilma Rouseff and centre-right Aecio Neves. As of now polls predict Dilma win but the Braziian electorate is known for giving surprises.

Brazilian Presidential elections on 5 October extend to a second round on 26 October

President Dilma Rouseff got 41.59 percent of votes while her rivals Aecio Neves got 33.55 % and Marina Silva 21.32%. According to the Brazilian electoral law if the leading candidate does not get 50%, there has to be a second round of elections between the top two candidates. So, Dilma and Neves will fight in the second round to be held on 26 October.

The results are somewhat close to the opinion polls held last week although Neves got more than what was predicted. Till a week back Neves was trailing in the third position and overtook Marina only in the last week. In early September, Marina Silva was predicted to win in the second round with her double digit lead over Dilma. But in the last one month Marina was discredited by the aggressive negative campaign of the Dilma machinery which exposed the contradiction between the pro-big business approach of Marina and her claim to be on the side of the poor people. The personal attacks made especially by Lula had hurt Marina more severely. Marina was seen as having compromised her idealism and environmental activism for getting the votes of business and religious groups. Marina failed to defend or clarify her positions effectively and paid the price. Before the sudden surge of Marina last month, Dilma was comfortably leading ahead of her rivals and was widely expected to get reelected in the second round if not in the first. 

President Dilma is happy to have the centre-right Neves as the opponent rather than Marina who would have encroached on her vote bank of the poor. Now it is a clear fight between the business-friendly Neves and Dilma who will claim to represent the masses. Recognising the fact that about 60% had voted against her, Dilma said, ' My second term will be better than my first. I clearly understand the message from the streets and from the ballot box'. She will scare the poor people with the message that Neves might scrap the pro-poor programmes like Bolsa Familia. Dilma is encouraged by the fact that her Workers Party candidate has become the governor of Minas Gerais, the home state of  Neves beating the candidate of his Social Democratic Party. But Dilma's Workers Party has lost to Neves's party her home state of Rio Grand do Sol as well as Sao Bernardo do Campo, the home of Lula and where he founded the Workers Party. Dilma is also on weaker ground on the poor performance of the economy, her unpopular interventionist policies and the corruption scandals which have tainted the image of her Workers Party.

Neves has got a tremendous confidence boost by the fact that he got just 8% less votes than that of Dilma. He needs to work on the beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programmes of the government of President Dilma that he would also care for them. Although Marina has not openly announced her endorsement of any candidate, she seemed to be inclined towards Aecio when she said, " Brazil clearly showed it does not agree with what is out there ". The candidature of Neves is quite strong given his background as the two term successful governor of Minas Gerais the second most populous state in Brazil. He left office in 2010 with more than 90 percent approval rating. He is the grand son of Tancredo Neves who was chosen as the first post-dictatorship civilian President in 1985 but died before taking over the office. His Social Democratic Party, which ruled Brazil before Dilma's Workers Party until 2002, has a solid national network and campaign machinery. 

As of now President Dilma is expected to get reelected in the second round on 26 October. But the Brazilian voters might change their mind in the next three weeks. If Dilma is reelected she will continue her low key approach to foreign policy and to partnership with India. Neves is likely to take more interest in foreign affairs. He has never visited  India although his state Minas Gerais has been active in business with India.