Bolivians appear to have delivered a sharp rebuke to President Evo Morales, according to unofficial, partial results from Sunday’s election to choose 56 top judicial officials. A preliminary count by the opinion polling firm Ipsos Apoyo found that 46 to 48 percent of voters had cast null votes, and an estimated 20 percent of Bolivians abstained, though voting is compulsory. Full results are unlikely to be known for several days.
Bolivian voters went to the polls to choose 28 national judges and 28 other members of the judiciary in the vote yesterday. Many of the candidates were female and/or Indigenous. Until now, these judges were chosen directly by Congress. Morales’ government said the elections were meant to reform the judicial system and give greater power to Bolivia’s Indigenous majority. The opposition contended that the election would result in diminished independence of the judiciary, since the candidates on the ballot were chosen by a Congress dominated by Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party.
Opposition politicians also urged voters to boycott the elections as a sign of their general discontent with Morales’ recent policies. If the preliminary results hold, they would represent the Indigenous president’s first electoral defeat in his presidency of six years. Morales was re-elected by a landslide in 2009 and plans to run for a third term in 2014. However, his popularity has decreased since then. Last year, he attempted to end gasoline subsidies but had to reverse his decision after spurring nationwide protests. This year, discontent has risen. Police recently broke up a protest march over plans to build a $420 million highway through Indigenous lands in the Amazon; even now, more than 1,000 protesters are headed toward La Paz.
At a press conference Monday night, Morales said he was pleased with turnout in the election and blamed the high number of null votes on missing information. “Those who tried to boycott these elections failed,” he said.