Monday, October 20, 2008

Bolivian Congress Puts Constitutional Reform On Hold

Oct. 20 -(digitalwarriormedia) On Sunday, Bolivia’s Congress voted down a measure that would set the date for a national vote on the country’s new constitution. The referendum act failed to get the two-thirds vote necessary to pass into law.

Congress began its session on Saturday with the main purpose of addressing the referendum issue, however the conservative Democratic Social Power (Podemos) party submitted a proposal to discuss suspending the state of siege decreed in the region of Pando.

President Morales declared a state of siege in the department of Pando on September 12 after hundreds of indigenous peasants were ambushed outside of the city of Cobija. The attack resulted in the deaths of 18 people and the deposition of Leopoldo Fernandez who was removed as prefect of Pando and arrested on charges of genocide.

The Pando issue dominated 8 hours of debate in Congress and still did not achieve the two-thirds vote during the congressional session which ended at 2 am on Sunday morning.
Congress reconvened at 9 am, with the call for the referendum and approval of the draft new Constitution of the Bolivian State set for the agenda.

According to the Minister of Rural and Agricultural Development, Carlos Romero, the government had dealt with all of the opposition's issues on the constitutional document - including the autonomous demands and differences on agricultural reform - through the consultative committee.

The inter-congressional consultative committee, led by Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, had met in a 23-hour marathon session between Thursday and Friday in order to reach agreements between the government and the demands of conservative party members.

Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism party (MAS), does not have the necessary two-thirds majority required by law to approve the constitutional referendum without forming some political alliances with opposition parties.

For this reason, on October 10 a multi-party commission was created within the Congress to open up a process of dialogue between the government and opposition with the goal of reaching an agreement on the draft constitution and the convening of the referendum needed to ratify the document.

Last week, Garcia Linera said there was an ultra-right minority in Bolivia that was reluctant to give the country the peace and tranquility it needs. And that this ultra-right was the same group responsible for the civil coup that gripped Bolivia several weeks ago. Nonetheless, the government was willing to incorporate the demands of the opposition with respects to land reform and departmental autonomies.

While public statements from the Vice President and administration officials indicated that both sides were close to negotiating a consensus, the constitutional referendum law failed to pass the Congress.

Once again the push for a new national constitution has been derailed – at least for the moment. Morales suffered a setback on September 1 when Bolivia’s highest electoral court – the Corte Nacional Electoral (CNE) – announced that Morales could not use a presidential decree to set a December 7 vote on the constitutional referendum. The CNE stated that the referendum must be called into law by the Congress. The executive branch recognized the jurisdiction of the judiciary, which culminated in a legislative defeat on Sunday.

A new national constitution has represented one of the strongest demands from Morales’ supporters, many of them from Bolivia’s indigenous majority and social organizations. Sunday’s vote makes strike two on a major pillar of the change process taking place in Bolivia since the election of Evo Morales in December 2005.

Meanwhile, thousands of marchers were set to arrive in the capital city of La Paz on Monday. It is the final stop of a week-long demonstration demanding that Congress pass a law in support of constitutional reform.

Around 60,000 social organizations cooperated in a 124-mile march that started in the department of Oruro and was reported to have at some point reached up to 100,000 participants.

President Morales was expected to lead the last several miles of the march as government supporters arrive at the Plaza Las Armas from all parts of the country.

Sources: ABI, Telesur, La Prensa
Photos: ABI



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