Monday, July 21, 2008

New Demands Before Recall Vote

The opposition stepped up its efforts to derail the recall referendum vote scheduled for August 10.

This past Friday in the city of Sucre, The National Democratic Party (CONALDE) - made up of opposition prefects and civic organizations - announced that campaigns against the policies of the central government will start on Monday.

After meeting for several hours, the CONALDE issued its three demands: replenishment of direct taxes from regional hydrocarbon revenue, amendment of the Revocation Law that established voting rules for the referendum vote and a referendum to determine Bolivia’s capital city.

They warned that if their demands are not met before August 1, they would begin a hunger strike three days later.

Opposition members complain that the current referendum is unfair since it offers a greater advantage to President Morales while discriminating against the departmental prefects (governors). The CONALDE is in support of a bill submitted to the National Congress on July 10 by PODEMOS Senator Roger Pinto. The bill would amend the voting structure to a 50% plus 1 vote in order to force a recall.

Currently the Revocation Law allows the president, vice president and regional prefects to be removed from office if they are rejected by a greater percentage and number of votes than they received when elected in December 2005.

For President Morales, who received 53.4% of the national vote, 54% of voters would have to vote “No” in order for him to be removed from office. Most departmental prefects were elected with a much lower percentage, for instance La Paz prefect José Luis Paredes was elected with just 37% of the vote.

The CONALDE announced plans to mobilize the collection of signatures in the departments of Beni, Pando, Tarija, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba in support of their demands to amend the Revocation Law.

The meeting also solidified the group’s relationship with newly elected prefect of Chuquisaca, Savina Cuellar, a former member of the MAS party. Her role as host of the gathering and also the location of the CONALDE meeting, indicate the importance that the capital issue will serve among the list of opposition demands.

At stake is the determination of whether Sucre or La Paz should be the capital city of Bolivia. Since 1899 La Paz has been the political capital of the country while Sucre remained the judicial capital.

This tactic was previously used by the opposition as the Constituent Assembly was gathering in Sucre to create a draft of the new constitution.

In November 2007, the ensuing protests over the capital issue led to violence in the streets of Sucre which resulted in three deaths and hundreds of injuries. It disrupted the work of the Constituent Assembly, forced the body to move its proceedings and set the stage for the resignation of MAS member and Chuquisaca prefect, David Sanchez.

These processes, which drew further divisions between the central government in La Paz and the department of Chuqiusaca, paved the way for the election of Cuellar.

The capital issue could prove to be a source of future clashes between the supporters of the central government and those of the opposition in the days leading up to the August 10 vote.

For several weeks, the government has accused the opposition of trying to boycott the referendum vote, and this message was re-iterated on Sunday by Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera.

The government is making ongoing announcements at the expected presence of thousands of observers to guarantee transparency of the electoral process and the election results.

The recall referendum will see a wave of election observers descend upon the country as more than 3,500 national and foreign individuals, including electoral judges from 14 countries, are expected. This past week Panama confirmed that it will send substitute electoral judge, Lourdes Gonzales Mendoza to act as an observer.

According to statements by the National Electoral Court (CNE), the electoral organization expects the attendance of authorities from the Latin American Electoral Experts Council, the Andean Electoral Council and the Carter Center. In addition Mercosur, Russia and European Union countries are expected to send representatives as well.

Geneviève des Rivières, Canada’s Ambassador to Bolivia, indicated that the Organization of American States seeks to gain the participation of 34 OAS member states for the referendum vote.

While speaking in Potosi earlier this month, Morales indicated that the repeal referendum will allow the people to decide which is stronger, the neoliberal model of the past or the process of change currently taking place in Bolivia.

The president expressed his willingness to take part in the repeal referendum unlike the Prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, who thus far insists on refusing the electoral process.

He said the main intention of the opposition is to halt his nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas sector and the redistribution of wealth accumulated during that process. Santa Cruz, home of the strongest opposition to the central government is also the nation’s richest province, contributing about 50% of Bolivia’s gross domestic product.

On Sunday, the Vice President urged prefects and civic leaders not to be afraid of repeal referendum because if the people do not support the Morales Administration and the prefects are reaffirmed, then the government would respect and celebrate the people's decision.



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