The former Minister of Economy and the former president’s dolphin leads the polls, but could have to contest a second round.
From a high position in the Central Bank, Luis Arce unraveled the contradictions of neoliberalism applied by the conservative governments of Bolivia and shared his views with students and colleagues at the university.
Until in 2006 the newly elected president Evo Morales gave him the opportunity to direct the Ministry of Economy with the mission of reorienting economic policy.
For locals and strangers, Arce was the mastermind of the economic success of the Morales government, which led the strings of the country until his tumultuous exit last November, amid accusations of fraud in the October elections.
A year after that failed election, Arce – a 57-year-old pragmatic economist with studies in the UK and a proponent of statism – is now Morales’ bet for the return to power of his party, the Movement to Socialism (MAS), with the elections this Sunday.
But although most polls rank him first in voting intention, it would not be enough to win in the first round.
For the experts, Arce has not managed to break “the hard vote” faithful to Morales, anchored in rural sectors and in popular urban centers, despite its middle class origin.
The main objective of Arce is, precisely, regain the vote of that class that distanced itself from Morales in his almost 14 years in power.
With his shirt rolled up, Arce campaigned like a pro but shunned debate. He only participated in one and in all interviews he is shown as an open anti-liberal.
“We opted for Lucho because the economic issue will be fundamental,” said Morales recently, who from his exile in Argentina chose Arce as a candidate and led his campaign.
Accelerated by the pandemic, the economic crisis works in favor of the former minister. “We will recover democracy, we will rebuild the economy and we will restore stability to Bolivia”, is the phrase that has been repeated the most during the campaign.
But for his critics, Arce’s economic success was not due so much to his ability but to the bonanza of commodity prices for more than a decade until 2012, which filled the coffers of the Morales government.
In his defense, the former minister assures that it was not only “the price effect” but the redistribution of income and state investment that leveraged industrialization.
However, Bolivia continues to depend on the export of raw materials – natural gas, minerals and agricultural products – and its economic and political stability depend on fluctuations in international prices, said economist Jaine Dunn.
“The economic model was based on taking advantage of the prices of raw materials, public investment and the redistribution of income through the payment of social bonds. The point is that the bonanza ended and the economic plans did not change their orientation,” added the economist .
With Arce as minister, the economy grew for more than a decade at an annual average of 4.6% and poverty fell from 60% to 37% thanks to the subsidies.
Being the dolphin Morales also calls into question his ability to reunify a country polarized between the former president’s supporters and detractors.