After 10 years in Bolivia’s highest office, President Evo Morales has begun to lose his grip on power. The failure of a constitutional referendum that would have extended term limits means he will not be able to run for re-election in 2019. But even though Morales’ charisma is central to his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party’s popularity, the referendum vote does not give an opposition candidate the upper hand in the next presidential election. Opposition parties are still disorganized, and the country’s strong ethnic and regional identities will make it difficult for their candidates to gain national traction. At the same time, internal rivalries among the ruling party’s elite will complicate its quest to retain the office.
Before his term ends, Morales will work to bolster his popularity while trying to groom a successor. He will be forced to referee the power struggle among his party’s leaders over who will be his chosen heir, a contest that has the potential to weaken the MAS. But no matter who wins the office in 2019, constraints on Bolivia’s economy placed by falling hydrocarbon revenue will limit the next president’s ability to implement the same populist policies that propelled Morales to his current status.
From the highlands of La Paz, Morales has ruled Bolivia virtually unchallenged since 2006. The longest-serving president in Bolivian history, he has enacted policies that have left an indelible mark on Bolivian politics and set a pattern of expropriations that both the opposition and the MAS may follow. …