October 21, 2008

Agreement is Reached in Bolivia

MABB © ®

In the early hours of October 21, 2008, the government of Bolivia and the opposition in Congress reached an agreement on what will become the new Bolivian Constitution (Constitución Política del Estado Boliviano).

After grueling months of conflicts, which brought Bolivia several times to the brink of collapse, and 12 days of negotiations, around 100 articles modified and endless verbal confrontations, the new Bolivian constitution was finally agreed upon.

To reach this accord, the government had to show its flexibility and let up its hard line position. The opposition is the relative winner in my opinion.

The re-election of the president was the last difficult issue. President Morales accepted in the end to reduce his ambitions to stay until 2019 and accept a one term re-election after the new constitution is enacted, that is he would be able to run for office and theoretically stay until 2014.

First, Congress had to pass a law re-interpreting article 233 of the current constitution. This article gives Congress the power to 'adjust' and fine-tune the new text without changing the character of the document. Congress has to approve these 'adjustments' by 2/3 vote.

Once these 'adjustments' were done, the president signed the new law and only then the constitution could be 'adjusted'. After the adjustments were done, the Congress drafted the law convoking a referendum to approve the new constitution.

The schedule runs as follows:

Last night, Congress approved the law calling for the referendum to approve the new constitution. This referendum will be carried out on January 25, 2009. If the new constitution is approved, this would give free way to the next general elections on December 2009, where new President, Vicepresident and legislators would be elected. The new constitution is set to come into effect from January 1, 2010 on.

In January there will be two questions, one asking to decide for the size of land tenure (between 5000 and 10000 hectares) and to approve or disapprove the new constitution.

The agreements are set, but the new constitution is not yet drafted. There is an attentive expectation from the part of the opposing departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Sucre). They want to keep any opinion until they've had the chance to see the document.

However, these departments warned of their skepticism for the new constitution. The legislative factions of these regions voted against the law calling for the referendum. That was a sign that they were not happy with the agreements.