Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2010

Bolivia's New Constitution: Towards Participatory Democracy and Political Pluralism?

Almut Schilling-Vacaflor

July 2010

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


In Bolivia, rights to increased political participation and the recognition of indigenous political systems are interrelated. The new constitution of 2009, a prime example of the “new Andean constitutionalism,” defines Bolivia as a representative, participatory and communitarian democracy. It incorporates enhanced mechanisms and institutions for participatory democracy. Moreover, new social rights have been anchored in the constitution and a plurinational state is supposed to be constructed. The article raises the question of whether the new constitution will change the relations between state and civil society considerably and whether a new democratic model is being established in Bolivia. I argue that there are many limiting factors when it comes to putting the emancipatory elements of the constitution into practice. These include the increased strength of the executive branch, the intent of the government to co‐opt civil society organizations and to exclude dissident views, the resistance of the conservative opposition to loosing some of its privileges, the deep‐rooted social inequality, the social conflicts and polarization, the resource dependence of the current economic model, and the authoritarian characteristics of indigenous self‐governance structures. The article demonstrates that the new Bolivian constitution cannot create a new society but that the processes around the elaboration of a new basic law have contributed to considerable changes in the social, political and symbolic order.