October 2011

First-ever election of judges in Bolivia: Women and natives first

In October 2011 Bolivia will hold its first judicial elections to choose members of the national courts by popular vote. This will be the first time that a Latin American country elects its highest-ranking officials.

By: Tanja M. Andersen
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Copenhagen - Denmark

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Photo: Tanja Andersen

Elections of judges are not very common events in most countries – with the United States, Japan and Switzerland as the only limited exceptions. But on October 16, Bolivia takes an important democratic step when holding its first judicial elections to choose members of the national courts by popular vote.

The Bolivians will elect nine Supreme Court judges, seven for the Constitutional Tribunal, seven for the Agrarian and Environmental Tribunal and five for the Judiciary Council.

The election is conducted by the Program for Strengthening Democracy (PFD) of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP). The main purpose is to create a more democratic, less politicized judicial system, to extend the right to elect and be elected and to ensure, that women and indigenous Bolivians get a chance to hold top positions.

In other words: The election is supposed to strengthening the human rights. To reach this goal, the requirements for candidacy are very stringent. The election-guidelines requires 50 % female members and “some” indigenous members. Furthermore, the applicants must prove that they have not been members of a political organization during the previous year or have held leadership positions in a political group for the last five years. If each court does not receive the minimum number of candidates, the voting continues until the seats are equally shared.

The intentions are good. Really good! But what do the Cochabambinos think about the election? We´ve asked some of them.

Voices of Cochabamba:

  1. “Before the elections the government made a kind of selection of the candidates. And in this selection, they preferred their own people from the Government. So everything is prearranged. We can’t elect the people we would actually like to represent us. Everything is already cooked. And that is why, I don’t agree with this election. I don’t think that it is going to strengthen the human rights as well. Because I don’t think the candidates care about human rights. They have other purposes. It is good that women get a chance to hold top positions, but again, they´ve already chose the candidates. And the government is going to tell the candidates what they are going to do and say. So, this is not a democracy. They are just like puppets in a theatre. Leaders should be able to make their own decisions”.
  2. “I think, that this election is a show prepared by the government to make the people think that they are in an electing democracy. All the candidates are from the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo – the biggest party in Bolivia ed.). I don’t think, it will strengthen the human rights. I think, they are manipulating people and manipulating women to think, they are elected, but since they are all from the MAS, I don´t see the reason to have an election. People, who are going to handle justice, have to earn the position through values and work in society, not through an election. I don´t think it´s necessary to vote for judges”.
  3. “The idea of this election is quite interesting, if it were handled correctly. And it could definitely help strengthen the human rights having women and natives taking top positions. But just the fact of saying, that there has to be 50 % women, so everything is equal, and supporting women and keeping the feminists happy is not enough. As a woman, I would like to be represented by people who are intelligent and honest. I would rather have 10 women who know what they are doing. I don’t support the idea of having 50 % women just to fill the spot.

    I think that this is an interesting way to apply democracy, but not right now. We have had democracy since the eighties, but I think, that Bolivia is still a teenager somewhere there. If we were better prepared, this could be a good idea to apply democracy. But right now, I don´t think Bolivia is ready”.
  4. “This judge election is part of a transformational process to move on from a democracy representative to a democracy participative inspired on our new constitution. However the election has been widely discredited because a lot of political interests have arisen as days goes by. Every party has to impose their candidates to people no matter if they are the best for these positions.

Fact box:

Bolivian Federal Judical Branch
Supreme Court The highest authority of the judical system
Constitutional Tribunal Determinates the constitutionality
of legislation and State actions
Judiciary Council The highest authority responsible for judicial oversight and for all other courts.
Agrarian and
Environmental Tribunal
The highest authority for specific legal disputes regarding agriculture and the environment

Nevertheless, electing judges is crucial for our justice system since most of our position at law courts have not been working for several months because there is no one to assume them. So access to justice, a basic human right, has been denied to people for a really long time due to the political confrontation of opposition and the ruling party, MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo) that frozen the traditional process of judges election.

Therefore, people don’t know what to do. They want to have judges but they don’t agree with the current election process because they don’t believe in it”.

The traditional and
the non-traditional of the Chola’s outfit

Four garments of their outfit are the most distinctive and considered as “typical”: the hat, the mantilla or fringed shawl, the skirt and the shoes. But is this outfit truly typical or is it imported? In nowadays Bolivia, many dichotomies are “in” such as: modern/ traditional, cambas / collas, indigenous/
nonindigenous, right/left; oligarchs/plebeians.

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