Delegative Democracy Revisited: More Inclusion, Less Liberalism in Bolivia

Document Type


Publication Date



Political Science



Publication Title

Journal of Democracy


Bolivia under the MAS government of Evo Morales (2006–present) has offered weak protection for liberal rights, politicized the courts, and threatened opponents and the press. While some scholars have characterized Bolivia as nondemocratic, it is best described as “democratic with an adjective”—one that exhibits delegative features, like the dominance of a personalistic leadership and weak horizontal accountability. However, unlike the classic cases of “delegative democracy,” those features are not linked to “deactivation” of subordinate groups, but rather to continued levels of social organization, expanded opportunities for citizen input through channels of representation and contestation, and greater governmental responsiveness to those groups. This has led to important shifts in domestic power relations.

As Bolivia’s economy slowed in 2014, the electoral strength of the country’s governing party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) of President Evo Morales, began to decline as well. In the April 2015 subnational elections, the MAS lost mayoral races in big cities that it used to win easily, as well as the gubernatorial contests in three populous departments, including its former stronghold of La Paz. Then in February 2016, Morales narrowly lost a referendum—whose unwelcome result he quickly accepted—that would have changed the basic law in order to let him run again in 2019. As opinion polls show, the level of public satisfaction with democracy has been down as well. As of 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, it was 51 percent—six points lower than where it stood shortly after Morales won his second presidential election in December 2009.


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