February 15, 2007

Passing of the Controversial Article 70

MABB © ®

On the evening of Wednesday February 14, the Bolivian Constituent Assembly approved the controversial Article 70, which will allow it to continue with the drafting of a new constitution. It has been seven months since the assembly was inaugurated, but has been plagued with divisions and paralysis. This article, which had been in dispute for over two months will regulate the approval mechanism for each article of the new social contract.

The details are as follows: First, each commission report will be approved by simple majority. Second, the draft document will be approved by simple majority vote, since 51 per cent is enough (Bolivians are calling it absolute majority, dunno why?). Third, and most important, each article will be approved by 2/3 majority. Albeit, they would have to be voted by July 2, this year. Fourth, those articles not reaching the 2/3 consensus, will go on to the Consensus commission. This commission will be constituted by the assembly leadership, presidents of all the factions and the presidents of the commissions in question, respecting the majority-minority proportion reflecting the assembly. This commission will negotiate a solution and will send this solution to the general assembly for its approval with 2/3 of support. Fifth, if the articles in question do not get 2/3 support in the assembly, they will be put into consideration of the population via a referendum. Finally, the whole text of the new constitution will be voted in the assembly and will be approved with 2/3 of the vote.

The 2/3 won and the government denied it had a hegemonic project in mind. As you can imagine, the opposition is happy though reserved, because there is still a lot to do. However, this small step is already good news for the rest of the population. The 2/3 means that MAS will not be able to write the new constitution alone, and instead it will have to listen and negotiate with the minority parties. This is encouraging for the minority parties, since there are 16 political forces represented in the assembly. So, consensus, negotiation, and good intentions are the words of the day.

Another thing that, more or less, worries me is the July 2 deadline. I am not jurist, nor have I ever taken part in a constituent assembly process, but I cannot help but thinking, isn't that date too short in time? That would mean that the assembly members would have six months to approve the whole constitution. That has to happen in an assembly which has 16 different political forces and 255 members. But, it is just because the assembly is so divided that the decisions are even harder to reach consensus.

According to the press, 81 per cent of the assembly members voted in favor of this article. That is a good number to realize that the 2/3 had ample support. Also, in an article in La Razon, it was reported that the assembly leaders tried to smuggle their own version of the article, which was not the one negotiated during those two months. Just one word, unbelievable!

So, finally the work can continue. The discussion from now on can be about what will be the shape of the new Bolivia, an not about the simple majority vs. the 2/3 voting method.