- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

LA PAZ, Bolivia | Bolivian voters embraced a new constitution Sunday that promises more power for the long-suffering indigenous majority and grants leftist President Evo Morales a shot at remaining in office through 2014.

The charter passed easily in a country where many can still recall when Indians were forbidden to vote. But its sometimes-vague wording and resistance from Bolivia’s mixed-race and European-descended minority foreshadows more political turmoil in a nation polarized by race and class.

“Brothers and sisters, the colonial state ends here,” Mr. Morales told a huge crowd in front of the presidential palace after the results of Sunday’s referendum were announced. “Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians.”

The constitution - the central reform of Mr. Morales’ 3-year-old administration - won by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin, according to an unofficial quick count with a three-percentage point margin of error. A final official tally will be announced in 10 days.

Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has said the charter will “decolonize” South America’s poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under centuries of oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest.

Bolivia’s Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and dozens of other indigenous groups only won the right to vote in 1952, when a revolution broke up the large haciendas on which they had lived as peons for generations.

But opposition leaders warn that the constitution does not reflect Bolivia’s growing urban population, which mixes both Indian blood and tradition with a new Western identity, and could leave non-Indians out of the picture.

They also object to Mr. Morales’ vision of greater state control of the economy and his government still faces stiff opposition from Bolivia’s eastern lowland states, which control much of the nation’s wealth and largely voted against the charter.

The 59 percent support given Mr. Morales’ charter is a sharp drop from the 67 percent support he polled in an August recall election.

“People will go to vote for the possibility of dreaming for a better country - but a country for all of us,” said Ruben Costas, opposition governor of the eastern state of Santa Cruz. “We should all be part of this change.”

Mr. Morales has allied himself closely with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what they call “21st century socialism,” sharing his anti-American rhetoric.

The proposed document would create a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups and eliminates any mention of the Roman Catholic Church, instead recognizing and honoring the Andean earth deity Pachamama.

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