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.


mcentellas said...

It seems counter-intuitive, but the longest negotiations involve the decision-making rules. After that, things should go (relatively) quicker.

mabb said...

Hopefully so, although I have my reservations. The probability that the two visions (the two Bolivias you talked about before) crash against eachoter is just too great.

The decisions that have to be made:

- How many branches the government should have?

- How will the deliberative chambers look like?

- Will there be one or two deliberative chambers?

- How will the decisions be made?

- What powers will the president have?

- Will the 'balance of powers' principle be included at all?

And those are just the major questions.

Oh, man, I am scared already. :-)

Norman said...

You're probably right. I expect that the various factions have had their own draft constitutions for quite some time and should be ready to put them up to a vote. Of course I still don't know what's wrong with the current constitution.

mabb said...

Yes, there are many, many, different proposals. They all have a chance to be looked at through the different groups in the assembly.

As for the current constitution,... I am no constitutionalist, but it seems to me that Bolivians tend to want to address their problems every time by drafting a new constitution.

And yes, some historical problems can be addressed in this way, but all too often they want to write a new one. As if that would make all the problems go away.

Anyway, I think that the problem with the current constitution on the first look is twofold: one problem has to do with the autonomic movement, and the other has to do with the MAS project.

The autonomic issue is not addressed in the current constitution and thus it must be, since it is become a crucial issue.

The MAS and Morales have a plan which includes the restructuring of the state. That is, how will the state look like. Ergo, the questions above. MAS wants to decrease the number of deliberative chambers, e.g. the parliament of the peoples. It also wants to include one more branch of government, the people's branch (or something like that). It wants to give many powers to the president, which, allegedly, will listen to the 'bases' or in other words, its supporters. That is among other things.

Since the current constitution does not reflect this vision, it was created by the old 'neo-liberal' elites and does not have an Andean-communal vision, then the current constitution is no good.

That's it. Simplistic, but I think illustrative!