November 17, 2016

Approval Referendum of Department's and Municipalitie's "constitutions"


Source: Bolivian Electoral Organ (

On Sunday, November 20, 2016 Bolivia will for a second time in one year go back to the ballot boxes to cast votes for yet another approval referendum (plebiscite). This time around the people will be asked to approve or reject the regional or local constitutions, which have been in formulation since the process to obtain autonomy began in 2010.

Fifteen "territorial entities", as the different governmental levels are known in Bolivia, will be asking their inhabitants whether the regional and local constitutions they have written are good to go or not.

A breakdown of these looks as follows:

So called Organic Charters, which are the fundamental laws for municipalities, will be voted on in the municipalities of Viacha (La Paz); Totora, Arque, Vinto (Cochabamba); Sucre (Chuquisaca) and El Torno, El Puente, Buena Vista, Yapacaní and Cuatro Cañadas (Santa Cruz).

In Uru Chipaya (Oruro), Mojocoya (Chuquisaca) and Raqaypampa (Cochabamba) the vote will be over the so called originary/campesino/indigenous statutes, which would be the equivalent of constitutions for these type of territorial autonomy. In similar terms, Gran Chaco (Tarija) will be submitting its statute for approval. This would be a so called regional autonomy. Finally, the Gutiérrez municipality (Santa Cruz) will be asking its inhabitants whether they want to go down the road of an indigenous/origins/campesino autonomy.

The Bolivia autonomic process

The process of obtaining autonomy in Bolivia has been complicated. According to the law, there are four ways in which territorial entities can become autonomous: Departmental, Municipal, Regional and indigenous/originary/campesino.

Departmental autonomy is the equivalent to a state government in the US or a laender in Germany. Many times these are also labeled regions, but in Bolivia this distinctions has been important because of this reason. Municipal autonomy is just that, municipalities. One has however to remember that a municipality can cover an entire large city or a territory larger that the city. That depends on the number of inhabitants in that municipality. Regional autonomy, instead, are particular regions within a departamento. They cannot go over its boundaries. In Bolivia, the Chaco region is a particularly distinct region, hence its seeking autonomy. In contrast to the latter types of territorial autonomy, the indigenous/originary/campesino have been difficult to define. In the law they are not defined. After all, how to define territory on ethnic or identity basis without crossing many artificially created territorial units such as states or municipalities? However, in the particular case of Bolivia, these territories have come to be defined as the equivalent to municipalities. The difference is on the attributions and responsibilities each form has. To cut a long explanation short, the municipalities are the type of entities that have the most responsibilities and therefore the most financing. The other forms of autonomy have to do with ethnicity and identity and with tradition.

Lastly, the referenda are the last step of a long process, through which the formulation of such documents had to be written by officials, presented to the population through countless events, revised, voted on in the respective assemblies, checked by the national government for its conformity with the 2009 Bolivian Constitution to then ask the citizens whether they also approved it or not.