Eduardo Leal

Documentary Photographer
Ghost Town Democracy
Location: Ponta Delgada, Azores
Nationality: Portuguese
Biography: Eduardo Leal is a Portuguese documentary photographer based in Macau, China, that focus his work mostly in South East Asia. Previously he worked for several years in South America. He graduated in Journalism at Escola Superior de Jornalismo (ESJ)... read on
Public Story
Ghost Town Democracy
Credits: eduardo leal
Updated: 11/30/16
Location: La Paz, Bolivia
Archived as:  ,

Countries like the United States and the UK are trying to integrate elections seamlessly into daily life—you can vote by mail as if you were depositing a check, or even from your car while the engine idles. Voting takes place on weekdays. And yet, more often than not, voters just ignore the process altogether.

Bolivia does things differently. The South American nation, which reelected leftist Evo Morales to an unprecedented third presidential term on the back of strong economic growth, is one of the small minority of countries that has compulsory voting. And to make sure everyone does their part, the country shuts down. No driving, no rallies, no domestic flights, no alcohol.

La Paz is usually a chaotic city, with cars, motorbikes, dogs, people, and the crowded mini-vans that double as buses all jostling for space on its streets. But on election day, the usual buzz was replaced by silence, broken only by voices and children playing and riding bicycles on the main roads. Completely empty of traffic, La Paz, becomes a ghost town.

Compulsory voting starting in Bolivia in 1952, and voting day restrictions have grown since then. Alcohol cannot be sold for 48 hours before and 12 hours after the polls close (Bolivians are fond of forms of pure alcohol and even industrial-grade alcohols that would wobble any democracy). Public gatherings or shows are forbidden; no vehicles can drive on the streets except with a permit from the Electoral Tribunal. Getting anywhere during an election is a challenge: La Paz’s bus and train terminals shut from Saturday 4 pm until 3 am the following Monday morning. Even flights are grounded, except those leaving the country or the international flights on a layover.

Some residents turned the once-crowded streets into their playground, riding bikes or playing soccer. Others complained about the disruptions to their business, their daily life and—the irony of democracy!—their freedoms.


By Eduardo Leal —



By Eduardo Leal / Porto, portugal — “Lockdown” is a small series that focuses on my rearview window to the old town of Porto during..

Hong Kong Protests

By Eduardo Leal / Hong Kong — Hong Kong was engulfed with months-long of protests due to an unpopular extradition bill to mainland China...


By Eduardo Leal / Prayagraj, India — India’s Kumbh Mela is considered the largest gathering of humanity on Earth. Just on the last Kumbh,..

In the Ring

By Eduardo Leal / Chiang Mai, Thailand — About 15 years ago seeing women on a ring fighting Muay Thai in Thailand was almost unheard off, unless it..

Plastic Sea

By Eduardo Leal / Capurganá, Colombia — Every year more than 448 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, of these between 5.3 million to 14..

Cholita's Rise

By Eduardo Leal / La Paz, Bolivia — As recently as 10 years ago, Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara and Quechua women were socially ostracized..

St. Bartolomeu

By Eduardo Leal / São Bartolomeu do Mar, Portugal — Every year on 24 August, faith and tradition join thousands of people at the feast of St. Bartolomeu do..


By Eduardo Leal / Ecuador — On the 16 th April 2016 at 18:58 local time, the earth became alive for 75 seconds in Ecuador. An..

Revolution Chronicles

By Eduardo Leal / Venezuela — At the end of June 2011, I arrived in Caracas, the capital of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with the..

Copa do Povo

By Eduardo Leal / São Paulo, Brazil — Even if football was born in England, Brazil is considered the spiritual home of the game. During a month,..

Bolivian Ball

By Eduardo Leal / Potosi, Bolivia — Travis Dupree comes from Eastman, a small town in central Georgia. He played basketball at Voorhees College..

Killer Bean

By Eduardo Leal / Argentina — The soybean will in a few years become one of the most important food commodities on earth. No other fruit..

The Island

By Eduardo Leal / Lençois do Maranhão, Brazil — Surrounded by sand and lagoons in Lençois do Maranhão National Park, an area that stretches 155 thousand..

Wrestling Cholitas

By Eduardo Leal / La Paz, Bolivia — Every Sunday afternoon on the city of El Alto, once merely suburb of the city of La Paz situated at 4,150..


By Eduardo Leal / Portugal — Portuguese forcados lie somewhere between the bull riders of the Americas and the bloodier bullfighters of..

Plastic Trees

By Eduardo Leal / Uyuni, Bolivia — The world consumes 1 million every minute, it was considered by Guinness World Book of Records as..

Victims & Heroes

By Eduardo Leal / Colombia — Colombia’s armed conflict, which started in the 1960’s, might be close to an end. After almost four years..

Bolivian Dreams

By Eduardo Leal / La Paz, Bolivia — Linked to the celebration of the harvest and the arrival of the rains in the La Paz region, the Alasitas..
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