July 27, 2007

About the Constitutional Assembly: Deciding Moments

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These are deciding moments for the Constitutional Assembly in Bolivia. So far around 32% of the articles have been approved and presented by the individual commissions. There are about five working days left until August 6th, when the entire assembly is supposed to present the new constitutional text to the people. And, there is a long list of unresolved issues. The assembly is under tremendous pressure, however they know (they should know) time has ran out and as such it has to be prolonged.

Regardless of whether the assembly was declared originaria (originary) or not (if it was originary, it did not need to take Congress into account for any decision), it has to come back to Congress now to ask for an extension. This is significant, both for the government and for the opposition, because it could signify a bend on the process. Until now, the government has been able to more or less direct the path of the assembly. It has, after all, a comfortable majority. For one MAS has been able to push this 'originary' issue to be included into the new text. Additionally, it has been able to pass a vision de pais (vision of country) through moves in the commission with the same name. The danger for the government now is that things will not go as they want, not that things have been going their way but more or less they have had small victories.

In Congress things look bleaker for the government. Even though it has a majority in the lower chamber, it does not have control of the Senate, where the opposition has the control. In light of this situation, any decision coming from Congress has to include the opposition's point of view. At the same time, the opposition has been quick to point out their determination to observe the government's proposals. One issue that is sure to be treated is the approval of the text with a 2/3 voting system rather than simple majority, which is the government's wish. Other issues certain to appear in the negotiations agenda are, the extension (of course), the funding and the referendum mechanism.

The opposition wants to make sure all the proposals will have to be approved by the 2/3 super majority. That way, they do not hand the government a blank check to write the constitution by itself. In fact, as we speak, negotiations are under way. There negotiations, however, are not to include the issues pertaining only to the assembly, I am almost certain that the following themes will also be touched:

The kind of state model Bolivia will have, currently there are three proposals.

The autonomic model, at this time there are two proposals, although somewhat similar.

The moving of the capital to Sucre.

The re-election of the president (Morales wants an indefinite term).

It is clear the government, MAS, Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia will have to negotiate with the opposition if they want to achieve something. That is the only way they will be able to pass desperately needed laws to continue with the assembly. As I said before, the opposition has to make sure, to preserve its existence, that these topics are dealt with to its satisfaction.

The coming week will be deciding for the assembly. Congress will have, once again the ball on its court and will have to make some difficult decisions. But, in the end, I think it will have to approve an extension.