July 24, 2008

The Recall Referendum is Stopped

MABB © ®

The scheduled August 10 recall referendum (Law 3850) has been stopped by the Constitutional Tribunal. On July 21, Silvia Salame, the only (and lonely) Constitutional Tribunal acting judge reminded the National Electoral Court (CNE) the course of the law. This, in turn, would implicitly stop the oncoming recall referendum, until, that is, the tribunal considers the matter and issues an official pronouncement.

The pronouncement was the result of a legal action UN Deputy, Arturo Murillo, started back in May (27) by formally asking the CNE to stop the referendum because it was unconstitutional. For its part, the CNE, did not want to deal with the issue and it referred the case directly to the Constitutional Tribunal.

Now, the decision is taken and neither the government nor the CNE will stop the referendum. Much less, if a clear decision is missing from the Constitutional Tribunal. The CNE has already said it will continue with the referendum, and the government will take legal action against Judge Salame.

This brings the recall referendum into even murkier legal grounds, when it had already been born in legal limbo. Let's remember that on January 19, 2007, President Morales submitted a bill to Congress. This bill, which was a response to the disturbances in Cochabamba (January 7-12), asked Congress to debate a recall referendum. This bill was never debated nor considered. On December 6 of the same year, Morales sent a bill to Congress again, challenging them to pass it. Ten days after the bill was submitted, the MAS controlled lower chamber passed the bill (December 16). It was in the Senate chamber where the proposed bill was stopped because the Senate is controlled by the opposition. Back then, there were reservations coming from both sides that the bill would have to be fair. The government was reluctant and the opposition was initially in favor. The government argued that the majorities (those incumbents who won with more than 50%) should have to be respected. The bill presented by the government on December 6, took into account the government's arguments. Precisely that was what the opposition wanted to stop in the Senate. However, and surprisingly, on May 8, 2008 the Senate passed the law, and subsequently on May 12, the president signed it into law.

The ink wasn't even dried and the legal grounds of the referendum were already being scrutinized. One argument was that the current constitution does not provide for a recall referendum. Another observation is the mechanism of acceptance or rejection. It is not clear, in the text of the law, which figure will be the measure stab, the percentage of votes or the number of votes. It could be that one person gets a different number of votes than the stipulated in the law. Also, with the change in the voting register, that number will most certainly be different (source). Finally, an argument that seemed to be uniting both, government and opposition, said that the referendum would not bring any solution to the conflict. The solution is negotiation.

The referendum novela goes on!