March 04, 2006

Constituent Assembly (Part II)

MABB © ®

According to the Bolivian media, the Constituent Assembly (CA) bill could be signed and proclaimed by the government as early as tomorrow, Sunday, March 5, 2006.

The Bolivian government and Congress have been under pressure to agree on a bill to call for a CA by early March. The time pressure was set by the electoral court arguing that if the bill was not law by early March, the elections for assembly members could not take part as scheduled.

Congress and the government have been under intense negotiations since over a week. Now, it looks like they have reached accord after a marathonic session which took place from around 9 am Friday to around 1.30 am Saturday. In addition, the special committee and the vice-president met again on Saturday morning to keep negotiating.

The results have come out already and it looks like there is agreement on the bill and the question about the autonomic referendum. Below I consider only the contentious issues which at one point in time put in doubt the CA.

The CA bill calls for the election of 255 members, of which 210 will be elected with direct vote. There will be three members per electoral district. Two for the party, group, civic organization, ethnic group, etc., that wins the most votes and one for the second majority. The number of electoral disctricts is 70. That satisfies the demands of the government. The other 45 members will be elected in departmental districts. That means each department will have five more members. The first two seats will go to the winner and the rest three will be distributed to the political forces achieving 5% of the vote.

One thing to highlight is the mode of seat distribution in the first 210 members. Had the government gotten what it wanted, the three seats would have gone to the political force winning 50% plus of the vote. As you can see now, it will be distributed among the first and second majorities. This was an important victory for the opposition. Another important victory was that the CA will carry on to completely reform the constitution, while the state powers will carry on with their work. According to the government's proposal, the CA was going to attain unlimited powers to reform the state. This would have given a blank check to Morales to make changes at his discretion. One last victory worth highlighting concerns the autonomic referendum, which is supposed to be binding.

The autonomic referendum has been a priority for Santa Cruz, and as of today, it will be part of the official agenda. The referendum will take place the same day of the elections for representatives to the CA, July 2, 2006. This date was set on June 2005, when president Mesa resigned. It will be binding, so the CA will have to take into account and respect the outcome of the referendum. The question is to be:

"¿Está de acuerdo, en el marco de la unidad nacional, en dar a la Asamblea Constituyente, el mandato vinculante para establecer un régimen de autonomía departamental aplicable inmediatamente después de la promulgación de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado en los departamentos donde este referéndum tenga mayoría de manera que sus autoridades sean elegidas directamente por los ciudadanos y reciban del Estado nacional competencias ejecutivas, atribuciones normativas administrativas y los recursos económicos financieros que les asigne la nueva Constitución Política del Estado y las leyes?".

Translation: Are you in favor of, in the framework of national unity, giving the Constituent Assembly the binding power to establish autonomous departmental governments applicable inmediately after the promulgation of the new Constitution in the departments in which this referendum got the majority of votes in the manner in which its authorities are elected directly by the citizens and receive from the state executive competencies, administrative and normative attributions and the necessary economic and financial resources assigned to them by the new Constitution?

As far as the major actors in these negotiations, the vice-president and the congressional leaders, they sound satisfied with the results. For its part the MAS has given-in into many demands of the opposition and the opposition at the same time has ceded some demands as well. If this continues on, it could be a landmark result and president Morales could sign the bill as early as Sunday, March 5, 2006.

Update: I was trying to work out a sort of projection model to see what would be the outcome of the new CA bill as far as seats is concerned. Fortunatelly, I took a look at Ciao! and I found Miguel had done some of the work. In his post, he speculates, based on the results of the December 2005 elections, how many members would MAS get. He concludes:

The grand total would give MAS 116 delegates, or 45% of the constituent assembly (based on 43.52% of the total nation-wide vote across uninominal districts). Of course, these figures are all merely extrapolations based on voting results in the 2005 election & are subject to change. But certainly this arrangement seems to make it much more difficult for Evo or MAS to stack the assembly in their favor & turning it into a rubber stamp.

Considering that it is important to maintain a balance of interests and give representativity to all groups around the country, so that one group or political party does not dominate the assembly and crafts the country of its choice, I tend to agree with Miguel on his conclusion that it will be harder for Evo to dominate the assembly and create a country based on his own idea.