Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Fulfilling Democracy

LA PAZ - President Morales ended a five-day hunger strike today as the Senate approved an electoral bill that had been stalled by opposition parties in the upper house of parliament.

Passing the law at 4 am on Tuesday, it took the Senate seven hours to individually approve all 76 articles of the Electoral Transition Law (LET).

Meanwhile supporters from Bolivia’s social organizations heeded calls from leaders of the National Coordination Committee for Change (CNC) and the Bolivian Worker's Union (COB), by gathering at the Plaza Murillo to maintain a massive demonstration in front of the Parliament building.

Morales welcomed the law, signing it before the thousands assembled in the plaza and said, "the people of Bolivia continue to write history." He expressed "deep respect and admiration" for the 3,000 workers and union leaders in Bolivia, Argentina and Spain who also joined the hunger strike.

Prior to holding the vote, the Senate had been locked up for a continuous 24 hours in the last round of negotiations to draft the final law. It required compromise among senators from MAS and the opposition parties.

Minority indigenous groups only gained seven of 130 seats in the lower house, instead of the eight seats originally set aside to increase their representation. The electoral law does extend voting rights to Bolivians living overseas – a win for the Executive branch.

And the law also meets a demand made by the opposition for a new, more secure voter registration system. Opposition leaders claimed that the current voter system contained weaknesses that would enable electoral fraud in favor of Morales and the ruling MAS party.

The Bolivian government will invest $30-35 million to adopt a modernized biometric voter system prior to the general elections that will be held on December 6.

In addition to elections for the President, Vice President and Parliament, six autonomy referendums - for departments of Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and La Paz as well as the Gran Chaco of Tarija province - will also take place in December.

The opposition-controlled Senate had been blocking the bill, claiming that it would aid the re-election of Morales. If Morales is victorious in December, he will serve an additional five-year term as president.

Last Thursday, President Morales declared a hunger strike to protest the delay by Congress. He maintained a vigil with 13 leaders of Bolivia’s social organizations; ingesting water, coca tea and chewing on coca leaves – a natural appetite suppressant historically used by indigenous people of the Andes for its medicinal properties.

With the end of the hunger strike, Morales is clear to resume his full agenda. He will be traveling to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas this weekend where he will meet with 34 hemispheric leaders, including President Barack Obama.

And next week, Morales will be in New York City on April 22nd to meet at the United Nations and deliver a public speech in Harlem.

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