Bolivia: Assembly Approves Draft for New Constitution as Opposition Boycotts, Draft Heads to Voters

Article excerpt

After almost a year and a half of conflict, elected representatives in Bolivia have approved a draft charter to replace the nation's Constitution. On Dec. 9, Bolivia's Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Constituyente) approved the draft for a new Constitucion Politica del Estado (CPE), meaning Bolivians will vote on whether to support the new constitution in a national referendum in 2008. The vote came days before a Dec. 14 deadline for the assembly to approve the draft. Internal legislative conflicts and often-violent protests outside the assembly have lead to frequent deadlocks and paralysis in deliberations. Opposition assembly members boycotted the vote, leaving assembly members allied with President Evo Morales to vote on the draft.

Protests keep assembly from meeting from August to November

The Morales administration has faced increasing pressure as the country's pro-autonomy forces and opposition parties organized protests against the document (see NotiSur, 2007-09-07 and 2007-11-16). The government has been pushing for the conclusion of the Constituent Assembly that has been rewriting Bolivia's Constitution for more than a year (see NotiSur, 2006-08-04).

Protests in the central city of Sucre effectively shut down the assembly in August and left it unable to convene for three months. At least three people were killed in the run-up to the vote in clashes between protesters and police. The clashes left three dead and about 130 wounded, Spanish newswire EFE reported on Nov. 26.

Riots and looting broke out in Sucre, the country's political capital, after the Constituent Assembly approved one draft of the constitution inside a military academy on a first ballot, EFE said. Two anti-government demonstrators and a police officer were killed in the previous two days, EFE said, adding that calm was restored after the police withdrew from Sucre's streets.

The riots began Nov. 24, when members of the government-controlled assembly barred opposition delegates and passed an earlier draft version without having read its content, EFE reported. One protester remained in a coma and several others suffered serious injuries, EFE said, citing medical reports. Reports at different demonstrations reported protestors using dynamite, bombs, and Molotov cocktails.

The assembly had moved to the military school outside Sucre in late November amid security concerns.

In addition to street protests, opposition members within the assembly have protested the assembly's proceedings, leading to frequent legislative deadlocks during the past year and a half (see NotiSur, 2006-12-08).

The assembly approved almost every article of the new constitution for South America's poorest country, handing Morales and his Movimiento a Socialismo (MAS) party a victory he had sought for the past two years.

The assembly installed itself in a university facility in Oruro, about midway between La Paz and Sucre, in the early morning hours of Dec. 9. The body had passed the draft preliminarily on Nov. 24 in Sucre, but assembly members reviewed and voted on the document article by article in Oruro.

The assembly worked through the night to ratify the final draft by a two-thirds vote, the official government news agency ABI said. The constitution must be approved in a public referendum in 2008 before it can become law.

Morales said when he took office in January 2006 that a new constitution was essential to his plans to "re-found" Bolivia, where political turmoil regarding the distribution of the country's natural-gas riches has led to a string of four presidents since 2002. Bolivia has the second-largest gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

Representatives from the opposition Poder Social y Democratico (Podemos) boycotted the vote, saying the decision to move the meetings from the southern city of Sucre to Oruro, where Morales has more support, went against the assembly's by-laws. …