June 10, 2005

Bolivia Has New President

MABB © ®

It couldn't have been more dramatic, but embattled Bolivia has a new "constitutional" president. Mr Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, former President of the Bolivian Supreme Court, is now President of Bolivia succeeding Carlos Mesa, who resigned in the midst of a deep social and political crisis.

As you might already know, if your are following developments in Bolivia, yesterday June 9, was supposed to be the day the uncertainty would end. Mr Vaca Diez, the then Senate President, called for a parliamentary session to be held in the Casa de la Libertad (Liberty House), in Sucre. The session was supposed to consider Mr Mesa's resignation, accept it and choose the his replacement. According to the constitution's succession line, Mr Vaca Diez was the next in line.

However, the so called social movements, together with the MAS (the main opposition party in Congress), dug their heels in and rejected the options available. They said Vaca Diez and the next in line, Mario Cossio (President of the Chamber of Deputies) should irrevocably resign to the presidency and let the third in line, Mr Rodriguez (President of the Supreme Court), be elected president.

Well, initially the session was called for 10 am. However, due to disagreement within Congress, it was delayed until 6 pm. That gave ample time for the protestors, who had made their way to Sucre city to force Vaca Diez and Cossio to resign, to get there and start a series of marches throughout the city.

Congress, in the mean time, was cought up in intense negotiations as to who would succeed Mr Mesa. According to some congressmen, Mr Vaca Diez was intent in becoming president. While, these discussions were going on, pressure on Vaca Diez was mounting. Not only had a substantial group of miners gotten to Sucre city and were starting to march and explode dynamite on the streets, thus triggering serious confrontations with the police, but other types of pressure were building up. Among these, there was a wave of hunger strikes began by different sectors of society, for example, teacher's unions, street vendor's unions, civic leaders, but the most telling among these was a simultaneous hunger strike of the Mayors of municipalities around the country. The Mayor of La Paz, Juan del Granado, as well as his colleague in Cochabamba, were among the most prominent. Their aim was to prevent Mr Vaca Diez from taking the oath of office.

At around six in the afternoon, the parliamentary session was called off. Vaca Diez argued there was no guarantee the meeting would be carried out safely. There were clear signs of confusion among the legislators, whom reporters were seeing walking back and forth between buildings, not really knowing what was going on.

As the evening went on, the news that a 51 year old miner had been shot to death in a check point 18 km from Sucre city, in a town called Yotala, was I think the las piece to start making Congress really think about ending this uncertainty.

As 10 and 11 pm approached, Mr Vaca Diez and Mr Cossio realized the reality of things and decided to agree to by-pass the presidency and let Mr Rodriguez take office. As the El Deber newspaper reports:

22:58 Congress accepted Carlos Mesa's resignation.

22:59 Hormando Vaca Díez declined the presidential succession.

22:59 Mario Cossío declined the presidential succession.

23:00 Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, President of the Supreme Court Justice was appointed as new President of Bolivia.

But, if you think this is over, you better think again.

Now what needs to be done is for Rodriguez to call for new elections, within the next six months. That is if he follows the constitution.

However, here is the problem. The Bolivian Constitution is a little unclear when it gets to this point. In its relevant article (93), it reads:

III. A falta del Vicepresidente hará sus veces el Presidente del Senado y en su defecto, el Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados y el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, en estricta prelación. En este último caso, si aún no hubieran transcurrido tres años del período presidencial, se procederá a una nueva elección del Presidente y Vicepresidente, sólo para completar dicho período.

That means that if there is no Vice President, the President of the Senate or the President of the Chamber of Deputies or the President of the Supreme Court of Justice will succeed as presidents, in strict order. In the case the President of the Supreme Court of Justice is elevated to the presidency, and three years of the presidential period have not yet been completed, new elections of President and Vice President will have to be carried out only to complete the current period.

Now, this would leave ample possibility for Evo Morales to be elected. If the Constitution is correctly interpreted, there would only be elections for President and Vice President. The only body who elects these two offices is Congress. Moreover, MAS is one of the strongest factions in Congress. Theoretically, if Evo can win the support of NFR (mainly) and divide the MNR (which is already divided in two factions) and MIR, he really has a shot. Additionally, if the social movements keep up their pressure, many minds in Congress will turn Evo's way, as we have seen in previous times.

But, Evo should not expect to win this one so easily. In August 2002, then President Jorge Quiroga Ramirez, promulgated law number 2410. This law, Ley de Necesidad de Reforma de la Constitucion (Law for the necessity to reform the Constitution), rewrote article 93 to read:

ARTICULO 93º.- III. Cuando la Presidencia y Vicepresidencia de la República queden vacantes, harán sus veces el Presidente del Senado y en su defecto, el Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados y el de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, en estricta prelación. En este caso se convocará de inmediato a nuevas elecciones generales que serán realizadas dentro de los siguientes ciento ochenta días de emitirse la convocatoria.

It is essentially the same as the article already translated above, whith the only differece that at the end it says that general elections would have to be called upon within 180 days of the convocation.

This means, indeed there will have to be general elections and Evo will get the chance to prove once and for all whether he really is the instrument for the social movements to take control of power.

More details can be found in Ciao! and Barrio Flores.

Correction: It turns out that the Bolivian Constitution was last amended on February 20, 2004 during the Mesa administration by law 2631. This last amendment says that a president and vie-president would have to be elcted, and saying nothing about General Elections. At least that is the last amendment I could find.