Monday, July 07, 2008

Opposition Agrees to Referendum Vote

July 6 - (digitalwarriormedia) With the unsanctioned autonomy referendum votes of Tarija, Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando behind the political consciousness of the nation, the next major milestone is the recall referendum votes set for August 10.

On Friday, Bolivian Interior Minister Alfredo Rada applauded the announcement from the departmental prefects (governors) of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Beni that they will participate in the referendum vote.

Prior to the public announcement made by Ruben Costas, prefect of Santa Cruz, the opposition had said they would boycott the August voter referendums.

The prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa and the prefect of Pando, failed to join the other “Media Luna” (Half Moon/Crescent) prefects in their announcement on Friday.

According to Agencia Boliviana de Informacion, Defense Minister Walter San Miguel criticized Reyes Villa’s decision, stating that as an authority figure, the prefect had “vowed to uphold the Constitution and respect the law”.

The results of the referendums - to be held at the national and departmental levels - will determine the future of Bolivia’s central and regional leadership. The positions of President Evo Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and eight of nine departmental governors hang in a precarious balance.

The referendum is viewed by the central government as a way to overcome the political impasse the keeps re-igniting between the government in La Paz and regional leaders over resources and social reforms.

Previously the President and Vice President had called the Media Luna opposition “cowards” for threatening to boycott the vote instead of submitting to the will of the people in a referendum that was sanctioned by the National Electoral Court (CNE) and the Congress.

Meanwhile Tarija, Beni, Santa Cruz and Pando each illegally held departmental-wide voter referendums to demand greater autonomy from the central government.

After announcing their boycott plans, several Bolivian unions noted that the Media Luna’s actions were hypocritical and insulted the Bolivian people. Even the Organization of American States (OAS) weighed in.

Before a session of the OAS Permanent Council, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza stated that the repeal referendum was an agreement reached by the necessary representative forces of the Bolivian leadership and supported it as “as a way to overcome the political crisis through votes and legitimacy.”

The opposition has repeatedly pleaded its autonomy case before the OAS and sought the organization’s participation in the ongoing political crisis as an observer, negotiator and at times an advocate. However the OAS has proven more supportive of the democratic processes being carried out by the Morales administration, always recognizing the unique authority possessed by national governments over regional leadership.

On June 28, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party began its campaign in support of President Morales and Vice President Garcia Linera and also to reject La Paz prefect Jose Luis Paredes. Government supporters in the La Paz department find Paredes too sympathetic to the opposition and will seek to revoke his position.

Only Chuquisaca's prefect, Savina Cuellar, will not be subject to the recall referendum, according to statements made by the CNE this week.

Ms. Cuellar was elected to her post on June 29, in what some consider a highly visible defeat to President Morales and the MAS party. Only those elected in December 2005 are eligible for the Revocation Law passed by Congress and approved by the CNE.

A former MAS supporter, Cuellar was elected on the Inter-institutional Committee Alliance (Alianza Comite Interinstitucional) ticket to a position that was originally filled by MAS member David Sánchez. He resigned after the violence and unrest over the Constituent Assembly that left three dead in Sucre last December.

An indigenous Quechua woman, she is the first female elected to the position of prefect in Bolivia. Cuellar won with 55.5 % of the vote, whereby MAS candidate Walter Valda received 40.5 %.

Her election calls into question where Chuquisaca will stand on the issue of regional autonomy. It also leaves the MAS party with support from only two prefects - in Oruro and Potosi - out of nine departmental governors.


Winning Hearts and Minds

The government’s campaign to win support in August began last weekend and the opposition has responded with its own slogan, “Just Say No to MAS”.

Sacha Llorenti, Deputy Minister of Coordination with Social Movements, warned about the development of an opposition-led right-wing media campaign against the central government in preparation for the August vote.

Llorenti warned that these media attacks will attempt to discredit President Morales through lies and misrepresentation, citing past occurrences where Morales was referred to as a terrorist or narco-trafficker for his role in the coca growers union of the Chapare.

He also asked that the Bolivian people consider the situation taking place in Bolivia right now and how that differs from their lives under the neoliberal policies of the past.

For its part the central government has said it will carry out a campaign based on the truth and has asked the opposition to run a clean campaign as well.







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