The Bolivia Recall Referendum: Final Numbers and Analysis

inca kola news, August 16

Bolivia by Department

The final results of the Bolivian Recall Referendum of last Sunday are now in (in fact they are officially 99.99% complete with just three 'mesas' from nearly 22,000 left to report, but I'm going with this as a definitive count). This post sums up the main results, looks at the main breakdown of the votes for both President Evo Morales and the eight department heads (known as prefects) and also takes a closer look at votes of the key dissenting state of Santa Cruz for reasons that will become apparent.

Before we continue, a glossary note and a note on bona fides. Please understand that Bolivia is made up of nine "departments". Those "departments" are further split into 100 "provinces". As an example, the department of Santa Cruz is made up of 15 provinces. As for bona fides, all statistics and results reported here are available at the official government website linked here.

So on with the show, and the first two charts shows the headline results. Nationwide, Evo Morales won 67.41% of the votes.

Meanwhile, the votes for the eight prefects under this recall election broke down as follows (note Chuquisaca's prefect has recently been elected and did not need to be recalled):

This next table gives a little more breakdown on how the national votes were cast. We see that 2.1m people voted for Evo, and just over 1m voted against him (OT: I had a problem formatting this table and it leaves a big gap in the post.
I don't know why, but no biggie anyway).

Referendum Statistics

No. Of Eligible Voters


Total Valid Votes Cast


Votes 'In White' (neutral)


Spoiled Ballots


Total Votes Counted


Total % Turnout


Votes Pro Evo


Votes Anti Evo


So far so good, and Evo won the national vote by a handsome two-to-one margin. However, as most people know by now the dissent to the Evo presidency supposedly comes from the Eastern lowland departments known collectively as the "medialuna", as well as in the department of Chuquisaca (home to the historic capital city of Sucre). So this next chart shows how each department voted for Evo.

In this chart, we can see that six out of nine departments voted Pro-Evo as President. We note;

  • Evo easily won the four western/highland departments of Potosi, La Paz, Oruro and Cochabamba (as expected by everyone).
  • Much less expected were the winning percentages he obtained in supposedly rebellious Chuquisaca and medialuna department Pando. These results give lie to the classic East/West split often mention in the press.
  • Next, Tarija was also very close, but went against Evo by 49.83% to 50.17%. Close, but a loss is a loss and has to be recognized.
  • Finally, the only two departments to clearly vote against Evo as President were Beni (43.72%) and Santa Cruz (40.75%).

However, demographics in Bolivia mean that most of the country population is concentrated in just two or three departments. In fact, 55.5% of all votes cast were from the departments of La Paz and Santa Cruz, with Cochabamba adding another 18.2%. So it's well worth looking at the absolute numbers of votes cast in each department, as seen in the next chart:

This clearly shows the 'Santa Cruz versus La Paz' power struggle, as these two departments are the biggest voters as well as being on the opposite sides of the fence as far as Evo Morales is concerned. Concentrating on the "NO" votes for a moment, after all that's been said about the "powerful medialuna block" it seems strange to note that after Santa Cruz, the second biggest number of "NO" votes cast for Evo came from La Paz, a province that gave Evo 83% approval! This is because the other "medialuna" departments, along with Chuquisaca, are not very densely populated.

It therefore makes sense to recognize the real seat of powerful opposition to Evo Morales as Santa Cruz, because without that large voting block there would not be much to claim. Put another way, even if the other medialuna states of Beni, Pando and Tarija were strongly pro-Evo Santa Cruz would not stop kicking up a fuss (it should be noted that Pando voted pro-Evo and Tarija was a very close result, so this is already half true).

So when it comes to the ongoing disputes about Evo Morales as president, the autonomy claims of the medialunas and all things related, the key to it all is Santa Cruz. We will therefore take a closer look at the Santa Cruz votes. The first thing to note is that the Prefect of the rebel Santa Cruz state, Ruben Costas, scored 66.43% approval. There were 451,191 pro-Costas votes and 228,041 anti-Costas votes in the department. This means we can mention in passing that Evo Morales (67.41%) scored a higher national approval rating than Costas' departmental rating.

Next, let's look at the total Santa Cruz vote broken down into its 15 provinces. Here follow three charts that cut and slice the statistics in different ways. The first one shows the percentage of people in the 15 provinces of Santa Cruz who voted "NO" to Evo, and "YES" to their Prefect Ruben Costas. These people can be thought of as the 'autonomy rebels' who most oppose the national government.

Interestingly, in every single province the Ruben Costas "YES" vote was stronger than the Evo Morales "NO" vote. This suggests that there is a small but significant percentage of Santa Cruz citizens that are happy with Evo Morales and happy with their Prefect.

The second chart is the other side of the same coin, showing the percentage of people in each province who voted "YES to Evo Morales and "NO" to their Prefect, Ruben Costas.

We note this time that if we ignore the province of Andrés Ibañez (the reason why will become clear in a moment), seven of the other fourteen provinces voted pro-Evo.

This final chart of this trio shows the percentages of people per Santa Cruz province who voted "YES" to Evo and also "YES" to Prefect Costas.

The strange result here is that four of the fifteen provinces actually approved both their national and their department leaders.

Going back to the first chart and comment, it's clear that there is an overlap of votes and many people somewhat surprisingly approve of Evo Morales and Ruben Costas, even though they are opposites locked in ideological battle for the future of Bolivia and Santa Cruz. This chart shows the amount of overlap in each province of Santa Cruz, and the median of the 15 provinces on the right:

For example, in the province of Angel Sandoval, a full 16% of people must have voted pro-Evo and pro-Costas.

However, we now turn our attention to the absolute number of voters in Santa Cruz, and the results show something that the autonomy leaders do not want publicized very much, of that I am quite sure. This is the voter numbers breakdown of the 15 Santa Cruz provinces, including "YES" and "NO" votes for Evo Morales:

Of all the provinces, by far the most important is Andrés Ibañez. This is because it holds the regional capital city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. We note:

  • According to 2007 figures, the province of Andrés Ibañez has a population of 1,650,000, which is approximately 65% of the whole department.
  • Of the 671,195 votes cast in the department in last Sunday's recall referendum, 465,425 came from the province of Andrés Ibañez.
  • Of the 397,670 Evo "NO" votes in the department of Santa Cruz, 301,275 votes came from the province of Andrés Ibañez
  • Incredibly, if we discard the Andrés Ibañez votes and look at the other 14 provinces of Santa Cruz as separate from the city, Evo "YES" votes total 109,375 and Evo "NO" votes total 96,395. In other words, away from the city Evo Morales actually won Santa Cruz by a handy 53.1% to 46.9%!
  • And if you're wondering what Andrés Ibañez looks like compared to the department of Santa Cruz on a map, here it is:

Dep't Santa Cruz, Andrés Ibañez in green

Now let's take the national vote in context to this one single province that lies inside one of nine departments that make up the entirety of Bolivia:

  • Only three of nine provinces voted against Evo Morales as their President, namely Tarija (50.17% No), Beni (56.28% No) and Santa Cruz (59.25% No)
  • The total number of Evo "NO" votes in those three states adds up to 520,314.
  • These "NO" votes, which are in fact the total effective votes against the Evo Morales presidency, represent 15.44% of the total number of votes cast on Sunday 10th August (3,370,783). This is a far cry from the image of a country "divided in two" and more akin to a minor regional dispute.
  • The province of Andrés Ibañez, holding the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, had 301,275 Evo "NO" votes as counted.
  • Therefore we can say that the votes of one single province (basically one single city) represented 57.9% of the total effective autonomy rebel vote.


The press is quick to describe Bolivia as "a country divided". This is obviously far from the case. In fact, President Evo Morales enjoys popular support in six of the nine departments that make up his country. Two out of every three Bolivians voted for him to continue as their President. And as for the autonomy rebel movement, once you leave the city of Santa Cruz (not the larger department that actually voted for Morales), those who oppose Morales are few and far between.

Last Sunday's vote was called "exemplary" by the overseeing international neutral observers, and very few if any serious incidents were reported. It was undoubtedly an overwhelming victory for President Morales. However it also showed that the much talked about autonomy movement is not a nationwide curse, but in fact centred very much on one single city. Ruben Costas is now being shown as the Emperor With No Clothes (though perhaps we can leave him his underpants).

Once these figures are looked at closely, it becomes difficult to understand the ostensible claim of Santa Cruz and its push for autonomy. It cannot claim the backing of the wider department, because without the regional capital Evo Morales won the popular vote. By demanding some sort of breakaway from the country of Bolivia, a single city would be trying to usurp a geographical area many times larger than itself. The city of Santa Cruz has, of course, the right to vote the way it prefers. But if it pushed for the autonomy it demands, it would have to leave behind the greater region and become a sort of Bolivian Vatican City!

This is, of course, ridiculous. We should therefore see the call for autonomy for what it is; a single city's complaint against its national government, something that is common worldwide and not any reason to continue ignoring national laws. The time has come to recognize Santa Cruz for what it is, namely a city bent on anti-democratic behaviour and not the centre of some oppressed nation that deserves the world's attention.

Republished from inka cola news

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