Crisis: a new constitutional moment

The ideological flavor, the absence of proper deliberation at the constituent convention and non-rigorous drafting created these constitutional inconveniences, which do not work properly. The constitution fails to determine many ‘whos’. It is still unclear who oversees the legislative process and how legislation is to be implemented and by whom, or who is the arbiter of last resort in judicial matters. Even worse, the attempt at codifying plurality has confused the identity of who is to rule and in who’s stead, thus creating a divided society. The question then, who does what for whom?, remains woefully unclear in the Bolivian constitution of 2009. However, there are ways ahead as well.

Severe crises recently shook Bolivia: devastating Amazon forest fires, electoral failures with political and social unrest and the uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic. In each one it was found that the State, its institutions and its leaders were not prepared to face them properly, justifying the concerns of a society that expects a more efficient and reliable State. All these events open a constituent moment to transform the State and seek a new social pact based on positive experiences and lessons learned in recent times. There are many and very important issues that must be dealt with by the constituent power, which belongs only to the citizens. It’s clear that far-reaching political agreements are indispensable to overcoming the current state of crisis. These are urgent ones, namely the pandemic as well as the current political and economic crises.

In my experience as interim president of Bolivia, I learned that timely and transparent elections were effective in renewing the organs of the State; yet this required structural agreements to be made between the main political actors and civil society in general. In 2005 negotiations paved the road for general elections, regional referendums, the election of local governors and a new constituent assembly. Free and fair elections were held and an orderly transition to a newly elected government took place. In contrast, the interim government of Ânez built an official narrative of disqualification of the MAS-IPSP party. It promoted judicial pursuits against its leaders, clearly neglecting its neutrality as a caretaker administration that was solely in charge of a new electoral process. Dialogue, coordination or cooperation amongst public organs or agencies was virtually non-existent.

Bolivians are facing one of the worst crises in our country’s history. The pandemic has put everyone’s life and health at risk, and we are still struggling to meet the minimum conditions necessary to face it. Schools and universities have closed their classrooms, virtual teaching

The 2009 Constitution in the Bolivian pendulum 27 exposes social inequality, as certain sectors lack access to the internet or any communicational technology. Our economy has been weakened to the point that we are dependent on external credit to cover current spending and our main sources of income, which sustains public interest, have been seriously affected. Public and private companies have reduced their activity dramatically or closed altogether. The dramatically slowed economy has increased unemployment, generated a labor crisis and spread poverty.

Instability and crisis are tackled by agreeing on pacts and sacrifices made for the greater good of a country. In the same way that citizens are obliged to attend elections, political leaders are obliged to offer society a minimum set of agreements that put political differences aside and offer measures to improve everyone’s lives. These agreements must establish the basis for the rebuilding of the economy, education and judicial system. They must also kickstart a debate on how the country must be ruled from now onward. To put it briefly, this need for change and the settlement for basic agreements is a constitutional moment.