Collective voting decisions among indigenous communities in Bolivia. Milestone or setback to indigenous political integration?

Collective voting decisions – called “voto consigna” in Spanish, in English “instructed voting” – are prevalent among rural indigenous communities in Bolivia. The idea of jointly taking electoral decisions runs counter to conventional democratic ideas on individual opinion-making and the secrecy of the ballot. Subject of the present article is the Uru minority people in the federal state of Oruro, Bolivia, and their voting behaviour during the 2014 elections for the special indigenous representatives. According to insider sources, their electoral decision was taken based on instructed voting. Reportedly, some of their communities were involved in clientelistic deals. The 2009 constitution has not only introduced reserved seats for indigenous minority representatives in Parliament, but also permitted the election of indigenous authorities according to their own uses and customs on their autonomous territories. These reforms were meant to increase indigenous minority peoples’ political integration, who have for long been politically marginalised. At the same time, indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to manipulation because of the prevailing poverty and low knowledge on the overall political system. The Uru applied for autonomy, which was approved in 2018. Instructed voting was hereby legalized as an autochthonous practice as part of their self-governance. The paper attempts to assess whether the practice of instructed voting enhances or impedes the political integration of the Uru, that is, their participation and representation. Since states like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela have in the 1990s and 2000s included indigenous forms of self-governance in their constitutions, scholars have begun to study these new forms of inter-ethnic governance. However, few have empirically examined autochthonous electoral rules and their benefits for indigenous peoples in terms of participation and representation in the national political systems. This article contributes to the body of research on the political integration of indigenous peoples into western-style democratic systems and, in a wider sense, to the inclusion of ethnic minorities in diverse societies. Besides, it offers empirical material on clientelism. The analysis is based on qualitative data, namely guided interviews with politicians, local leaders and community members, and additionally employs small-scale electoral data.

Aline-Sophia Hirseland /German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)