As experienced by several other countries in the Latin American region, Bolivia went through a tumultuous political history before finally attaining democratic rule. Following the 1952 Revolution, the country was ruled by military elites and faced political instability for almost two decades (1964-1982). The return to a democratically elected government occurred only in 1982 in the middle of an economic crisis and hyperinflation. Social discontent arose in the form of powerful social movements organized by indigenous peasants, miners, and coca leaf growers. Demands for greater participation and more significant impact from citizen voices emerged along these movements and were ultimately consolidated through the enactment of the Popular Participation Law (LPP) in 1994.
The LPP implemented decentralization policies that favored municipalities with a better and fairer distribution of tax revenues. It also fostered participatory planning and incorporated citizens into government monitoring through bodies such as Comités de Vigilancia (Oversight Committees). In parallel, political parties such as Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) included in their statutes their advocacy for a participatory democracy of consensus.
In 2005, Evo Morales, leader of the MAS Movement, won general elections and thus became the first indigenous president of Bolivia. Shortly after winning, Morales convened a new Constituent Assembly. The new Constitution was approved by a constitutional referendum in 2009, recognizing the State of Bolivia as a Plurinational State and adopting a participatory, representative and communal democracy as a form of government in its Article 11.
The literature also widely addresses institutional reforms conducted after the enactment of the new Constitution, which allowed for a decentralized government deeply rooted in communities, and traditional and ancestral forms of organization. Through different innovative mechanisms, Evo Morales’ government has also sought to strengthen political inclusion of historically marginalized groups. With 36 native nations living within its territory, Bolivia is one of the most diverse countries in Latin America. It has one of the highest rates of indigenous and peasant populations.
However, it also figures among the poorest countries in the region. In spite of such contrasting conditions, Bolivia’s citizen participation levels stand out not only regionally, but globally. In terms of electoral participation, for instance, the national presidential elections of 2014 had a voter turnout of 89.08%. Likewise, Bolivians are among the citizens that most actively participate in political and civic organizations, especially in activities aimed at solving community problems.
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