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Viewing cable 09LAPAZ96, BOLIVIA'S REFERENDUM: MARGIN OF VICTORY MATTERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LAPAZ96 2009-01-23 13:01 2010-11-30 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy La Paz
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #0096/01 0231326
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231326Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9793
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 8742
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 6115
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0078
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 7298
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 4344
RUEHCP/AMEMBASSY COPENHAGEN 0330
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 4679
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6085
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6963
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 1731
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 1617
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/21/2019
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL PHUM PINR ENVR BL SUBJECT: BOLIVIA'S REFERENDUM: MARGIN OF VICTORY MATTERS

REF: A. 08 LAPAZ 2606
B. LA PAZ 6
C. LA PAZ 11
D. LA PAZ 62
E. LA PAZ 90

Classified By: A/EcoPol Chief Joe Relk for reasons 1.4 (b, d)

1. (C) Summary: With the January 25 constitutional
referendum rapidly approaching, all signs point to victory
for President Morales and his ruling Movement Toward
Socialism (MAS) party. Although the opposition has made
inroads into the MAS lead, most national polls point to
between 54 and 60 percent support for the proposed
constitution (with one government poll showing 66 percent),
and the MAS appears set to leverage its considerable rural
base to victory. After a series of national news articles
raised questions about significant fraud in the August 2008
recall referendum, the National Electoral Court has taken
pains to advertise the electoral rolls as secure. However, a
recent poll shows less than half of the public shares the
court's confidence, and the opposition believes significant
electoral fraud is likely. While cheating seems unnecessary
to secure victory for the MAS, padding their lead would give
the party leverage in congressional negotiations regarding
legislation implementing hundreds of vague constitutional
clauses. Opposition leaders continue to fear the MAS will
use any stalemate in these negotiations to close congress and
institute rule by decree. At both the national and regional
levels, the margin of victory matters. A landslide for the
MAS nationally, or large victories for the opposition in the
eastern departments, could spark more conflict. End summary.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
MAS Victory Seems Assured
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) With the January 25 constitutional referendum rapidly
approaching, all signs point to victory for President Morales
and his ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party.
Although the opposition has made inroads into their lead,
causing the MAS to tone down its rhetoric, national polls
point to between 54 and 60 percent support for the proposed
constitution. (One government poll shows the "yes" vote
winning by 66 percent.) However, many polls downplay or
ignore the MAS' rural base. Almost as importantly, the MAS
seems prepared to take at least five of the nine departments,
including La Paz, Potosi, Oruro, Cochabamba, and Pando, with
Beni a distinct possibility. If the MAS can win at levels
similar to their August 2008 referendum victory (i.e. 67
percent or more) and can make inroads into the "Media Luna"
or eastern half of the country, they will have much more
leverage in upcoming congressional negotiations over
implementing legislation.

- - - - - -
Polling Data
- - - - - -

3. (C) Polling data has varied widely over the past two
weeks, due to a combination of a tightening race and polling
methodologies (i.e. city vs. rural). Recent national polls
by Gallup and Apoyo within the last week show approval for
the constitution with a much slimmer lead than many expected,
ahead only 48 to 42 percent and 49 to 43 percent,
respectively. Ipsos and Mori both conducted polls of capital
cities and both found the "yes" vote ahead, with Ipsos
showing a 59 to 35 percent lead and Mori reporting 60 to 40
percent. However, our contacts tell us all these polls
partially or totally ignored the rural vote, where the MAS
has much of its base. A poll by Observatorio de Gestion
Publica, publicized by government-friendly Radio Patria
Nueva, marked the constitution's lead at 66 percent, versus
31 percent against. Some estimate a six percent "bump" when
the rural vote is included.

4. (U) Polls showing a breakdown
by city or region indicate
the constitution will easily win in at least four
departments: La Paz, Potosi, Oruro, and Cochabamba, likely
with at least 70 percent support in each. The MAS has a
distinct chance to capture both Pando and Beni as well. In
Pando, the Observatorio poll shows Pando department split
evenly, and the Ipsos poll shows the capital city of Cobija
supporting the constitution by a ratio of 64 to 36. Polling
data for Beni has been more scattershot, but although its
capital city of Trinidad is firmly against the constitution,
by as much as 88 percent, the larger city of Riberalta is
leaning for approval of the constitution. The Observatorio
poll shows Beni evenly split as a department.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rural and Indigenous Role
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (SBU) Although the opposition is making a mighty effort
across the country to rally against the constitution, the
forces of inertia seem to be conspiring against them,
particularly in the form of a largely uneducated rural base
in the Altiplano. Leading daily La Razon interviewed several
community leaders from the Altiplano, and their supporters,
and reported on January 18 that neither the leaders nor the
supporters had read the Constitution. Instead, the repeated
message was that rural communities would take their marching
orders from the MAS, and vote for the constitution. According
to the Ipso poll of capital cities, only four percent of
respondents said they had read much or all of the
constitution, 45 percent of respondents said they have read
some, and 50 percent said they had read none of the draft
text. In the countryside, the number of those reading the
constitution is much lower. Post suspects disinterest, blind
faith in Evo Morales' political project, and illiteracy,
despite the Cuban literacy program, all play a role. In
addition, the sheer volume of the 411-article constitution
probably scares some potential readership away.

6. (C) However, despite the overall level of MAS dominance
among campesinos and indigenous voters, some opposition does
exist, albeit for a variety of reasons. The xxxxxxxxxxxx, has tried to rally
support against the MAS and the proposed constitution (Reftel
A). In a meeting with PolOffs, they lamented the way the MAS
had "cheated" and "fooled" campesinos into believing Morales
was himself truly indigenous or cared about indigenous
issues. Although they held a national meeting on January 17
and tried to reach out to the press, they sounded defeated
when they acknowledged that the MAS, through a combination of
funding and pressure on local social and business leaders,
held a "vertical control" in the countryside that would be
difficult to break. They also noted rural communities tended
to vote in blocks, supporting one political party until they
discarded it to vote en masse for another.

7. (C) Going in a completely different direction, some rural
social groups and far-left leaders, such as Achacachi Mayor
Eugenio Rojas and El Alto City Councilor Roberto de La Cruz
also publicly recommended voting against it because it was
seen as not revolutionary enough. They criticized the
government for making too many concessions to the opposition
during the constitutional compromise reached on October 21,
including the agreement to not make land reform retroactive.
However, they have a relatively small following, and some,
like de La Cruz, eventually reversed course as the projected
MAS margin of victory shrunk in January. Edgar Patana,
leader of the regional workers union (COR), other El Alto
union leaders, and the majority of social groups have
recommended voting for the constitution.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Opposition Feisty, But Realistic
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) The opposition has not given up, but seems to be
battling
more to limit the margin of defeat than to win. In
Santa Cruz,xxxxxxxxxxxx
told EmbOff that polls show an overwhelming victory for the
"No" vote in Santa Cruz, but that he is worried about the
opposition's goal of winning in five of Bolivia's nine
departments (Reftel E). Although a current
privately-commissioned opposition poll showed the
constitution ahead by a margin of only five points, 39 to 34
percent (with 20 percent undecided), opposition alternate
xxxxxxxxxxxx doubted the opposition would be able to
win the referendum outright even under the most optimistic
scenario. He predicted that Morales would succeed in
personalizing the constitution as "Evo's constitution" and
leverage his cult of personality. Ultimately xxxxxxxxxxxx was more
concerned with the margin of the opposition's defeat and
discrediting the results of "any election that uses this
voter roll" (Reftel C).

9. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx has been
criss-crossing the country with opposition xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx, campaigning against the proposed constitution, but
also building a foundation for a likely run for the
presidency. xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed opposition leaders put aside
jockeying to be the 2009 opposition unity presidential
candidate in the final days of the "no" campaign to "attack
the government from three sides:" the prefects (governors)
who been traveling around the Media Luna to show &they are
not afraid" of government threats to arrest them and
galvanize support in opposition departments, a group of three
presidential contenders to show opposition unity and
xxxxxxxxxxxx, who is used for more cerebral attacks on the CPE
and to &dismiss the governments mythology that they
exclusively represent the indigenous.8 xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that
opposition parties Podemos and MNR are playing a deliberately
muted role, recognizing that their unpopular association with
the &old regimes8 would play into MAS strategy. "Political
parties are bad words in Bolivia," xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx La
Paz-based group of mostly young professionals who focus on
issues and distance themselves from the party moniker. "We
need parties, but we need to start from scratch, without the
old leaders. This will take time."

10. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx told
PolOff the opposition is chipping away at the MAS referendum
lead despite the government's leviathan advantage in
resources by de-personalizing the constitution and
"convincing people on the street that is not in their best
interests." Although he conceded the "no" campaign would
ultimately be a losing effort, he cited the emerging feud
between Morales and Church, corruption charges against
government officials, and the increasingly precarious economy
as emerging factors in December and January that created an
opposition "surge" after "we were so depressed" in the fall.
xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the government's newfound mobilization of
congressmen and deputies to challenge the opposition view on
television and radio shows is proof of government panic.
"Before they just thought they could ignore us (and win),"
said xxxxxxxxxxxx. "They said there was no opposition." xxxxxxxxxxxx
agreed, and added that this is playing into the opposition's
hands, because they "are forced to defend a constitution they
often know little about." According to xxxxxxxxxxxx has
been challenging MAS supporters to debate him during his
speaking tours and embarrassed Vice Minister of Social Groups
Sacha Llorenti in a January 20 debate when he started talking
in fluent Aymara. He asked the dumbstruck Llorenti what he
planned to do if the constitution passed, since all public
officials will be required to speak one of Bolivia's
indigenous languages. Later he challenged President Morales
to debate him in Aymara, which the president allegedly speaks
poorly.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Fraud, Doubts, and Questions
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -


11. (C) The National Electoral Court (CNE), which will
oversee and ratify the results of the referendum, has
undertaken a public relations campaign to assure the public
of the security of the election rolls, which came under
scrutiny after leading daily La Razon published a series of
articles questioning the validity of the August 10, 2008
recall referendum. Several contacts, including xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx, told us the MAS padded their
August referendum victory by five to seven points through
fraud at several levels (reftel C). While many international
observers groups are expected to view the January 25
constitutional referendum -- including the European Union,
the OAS, the Carter Center, the UN, the CAN, the
South-American and Andean parliaments, and UNASUR (septel) --
the depth of the earlier fraud has muted the opposition's
confidence in observers' ability to ensure the results are
fair. Members of the Santa Cruz civic committee told EmbOff
that they have no faith in international observers. The
committee has met with the OAS team already and "told our
side of the story", describing the discoveries of tens of
thousands of false voter cards and the statistical signs of
fraud in areas that managed to vote 100 percent for President
Morales in the August 2008 referendum. However, the civic
committee said that the fact that international observers
blessed the August referendum means they do not expect an
honest review of the constitutional referendum. Civic
committee members also noted that small numbers of observers,
generally based in the city, will not be able to stop
widespread fraud in the countryside, which is where they
believe most of the August 10 fraud took place.

12. (C) In a press conference designed to bolster confidence
in the security of the electoral rolls, National Electoral
Court (CNE) President Jose Luis Exeni presented a PowerPoint
describing the bill of clean health given by the OAS. As
part of the presentation, he showed the number of voters
dropped from the rolls for not participating in prior
elections and the number added during this cycle. While all
departments projected to vote against the constitution had a
net reduction in the voter rolls, including 85,000 Crucenos
and 17,000 Benianos, MAS strongholds including La Paz
(38,000) and Potosi (16,000) saw substantial gains -- a
curious reckoning, considering population and migration
trends to the contrary.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Pando At Center of Storm, Again
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

13. (C) While it is possible the constitution could pass in
Beni, most opposition leaders tell us the MAS has set its
sights on lightly-populated Pando department as its best
chance to win in five departments. By winning the popular
vote and a majority of the departments, the MAS could more
credibly claim to have support throughout the country. Pando
has also traditionally aligned with the opposition, so a
breakthrough win there would send a strong signal that the
strength of the MAS continues to rise. And with fewer than
32,000 registered voters, or less than one percent of the
country's voting population, Pando is the most vulnerable
department to even small amounts of fraud or voter
registration changes.

14. (C) In a conversation with PolOff, xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged the MAS deliberately fomented unrest in Pando
in September to justify a military siege, depose Prefect
Leopoldo Fernandez, and arrest opposition-aligned leaders to
swing the balance of power to the MAS in the Senate. Besides
disabling the opposition's ability to campaign by arresting
many of its leaders,xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged the government crackdown
changed Pando's electoral map by causing hundreds of
opposition voters to flee to Brazil while importing 2,000 new
security forces, which xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed were likely MAS voters
from the Altiplano (Reftel B). xxxxxxxxxxxx added
that in the run-up to the August 2008 referendum, Government
Minister Alfredo Rada facilitated the establishment of fake
identities via the police role in issuing national identity
cards (which can then be used to vote). (Reftel C).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
January 26: What Happens Next?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

15. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx told PolOff December 31 that
a general election prompted by passage of the new
constitution requires a plethora of enabling legislation that
the opposition-controlled Senate will block, at least in the
forms likely to be proposed by the MAS (Reftel B). xxxxxxxxxxxx
said the new draft constitution is deliberately vague, which
grants MAS legislators wide discretion to "fill in the
blanks" with new implementing legislation. He also said the
Senate would clash with the government on assigning new
borders for electoral districts, needed for the general
election. xxxxxxxxxxxx added that Morales' MAS party is
already injecting "ridiculous" interpretations of the
constitution into a wide gamut of implementing legislation
that "the Senate cannot in good conscious agree to." He said
Senate rejection of MAS proposals provides a ready excuse for
Morales to dismiss congress for "rejecting the will of the
people" and then have President Morales rule by decree
(Reftel D).

16. (C) Despite the official government position that
President Morales will undergo treatment to correct a
deviated septum immediately following the referendum, several
contacts confirm that the problem is actually a tumor in the
pituitary near the sella turcica and that Morales will travel
to Spain for the operation. xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx told us Morales' first choice, Cuba, could not
perform the surgery. Article 238 is also of consequence to
the post-January 25 political landscape. It would establish
that all other government officials must stand down three
months before general elections expected in 2009, with the
notable exception of the president and vice president.
Besides providing the MAS the advantage of ruling during the
campaign, it also ensures leadership cannot pass to the
opposition-controlled Senate. It is unclear why the
opposition waited until the final week before the referendum
to complain about the article or why they accepted it during
marathon sessions in October to arrive at a "compromise
text," which, it should be noted, the opposition agreed to
under duress, with thousands of MAS-aligned protesters
surrounding the congress and threatening violence.

- - - -
Comment
- - - -

17. (C) It is likely there will be some amount of fraud in a
referendum the MAS seems likely to win legitimately anyway.
While it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, the
Morales administration has a reputation of doing exactly what
they announce they will do. In this case, 66 percent seems
to be the target number, and the MAS is likely to pull out
all the stops to reach that level. With at least two-thirds
support across the country and a minimum of five of the nine
departments under his belt, President Morales would be able
to claim a political mandate to implement the constitution
quickly. Practically speaking, this will put great pressure
on the Congress, especially the opposition-controlled Senate,
to acquiesce in negotiations and accept MAS versions of
implementation legislation. If they do not, Morales and
others in the MAS have spoken of rule by decree. Using
similar logic, Morales could call for early elections to more
quickly advance the "democratic revolution" in Bolivia.
Early elections would also help the MAS avoid dealing with
the quickly-crumbling economy, which would likely be more of
an issue in December.

18. (C) Both sides seem to be angling over the margin of the
MAS victory, not the victory itself. While Morales continues
to predict a victory of up to 80 percent, Vice President
Garcia
Linera tried to manage expectations with a 66 percent
estimate on January 21. The margin matters. If the
constitution gets less than two-thirds support, many
observers feel this would represent a relative defeat,
especially when Morales himself has set such high
expectations. On the other hand, we are equally concerned
that large-margin victories in media luna departments could
lead opposition leaders to ignore the national results and
resume a course for autonomy on their own terms -- putting
them on a collision course with the national government. A
solid but not overwhelming MAS victory, perhaps around 56 to
60 percent, might be the best outcome to keep both sides from
claiming a strong mandate for extreme measures.
URS