Bolivian congress sets constitutional referendum; opposition calls vote illegitimate

On Feb. 28, Bolivia’s National Congress narrowly approved holding a national referendum on a new constitution drawn up by supporters of President Evo Morales. The vote, setting the referendum for May 4, was boycotted by the opposition, which had been attempting to change the draft constitution approved in December. The draft constitution would give the president more power over natural resources, collapse Bolivia’s legislature into one body, and allow the president to seek election for two consecutive five-year terms. (NYT, Feb. 29; Jurist, Feb. 28)

President Morales the following day praised protesters who blocked opposition lawmakers from attending the congressional session where the vote was taken. Hundreds of Morales supporters had seized the plaza in front of the congressional building—leading the opposition to denounce the session as an undemocratic power grab. “I was listening this morning to the complaints of some members of Congress,” Morales told the marchers still gathered in the plaza Feb. 29. “As if they were so innocent, just because yesterday you rejected those that won’t accompany this process of change.” Morales accused opposition lawmakers of blocking “more than 100” of his proposed bills. “If our demands aren’t answered, there will be protests,” he said.

During the contested Feb. 28 session, the few opposition politicians who made it inside the hall stood on their desks and shouted in frustration at cheering lawmakers from the ruling party. Opposition leaders are vowed to fight against Morales’ proposed constitution. “The world should know first hand about this outrage, which is nothing more than a coup,» said Jorge Quiroga, head of the conservative party Podemos. “Evo Morales has renounced his status as a democratically elected president.” (AP, Feb. 29)

See our last post on Bolivia.