Bolivian electoral court halts referendums; eastern regions voice defiance

Bolivia’s National Electoral Court (CNE) issued a ruling March 7 postponing a referendum on the new draft constitution scheduled for May 4, saying there is not enough time to ensure “legal guarantees” and an “adequate electoral environment.” CNE president JosĂ© Luis Exeni said: “No technical, operative, legal or political conditions exist to allow it to go forward.” He added that the schedule failed to meet a constitutional requirement that referendums be held at least 90 days after being approved by the congress. It is unclear if the decision will also apply to the referendums on regional autonomy called without congressional approval by Bolivia’s eastern departments. (BBC, AP, March 8)

The eastern autonomy movement, led by Santa Cruz department prefect RubĂ©n Costas, does not recognize the authority of the National Congress or President Evo Morales over the regional referendum process. Costas has not yet commented on the CNE ruling. (Reuters AmĂ©rica Latina, March 7) The prefect of the eastern department of Beni, Ernesto Suárez, did voice defiance of the CNE, saying the local assembly has the legal power to determine its own political norms: “The decision in our region is taken… We are in the Asamblea de la Benianidad and we are going to continue with this process.” (La RazĂłn, La Paz, March 8)

CĂ©sar Navarro, a leading congressional deputy with President Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS), said the CNE ruling “is legitimate if it applies to to the national consulta [referendum] and to the referendums self-declared in some regions.” (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, March 8)

See our last post on Bolivia.