- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia | The Bolivian vote to approve a new constitution backed by leftist President Evo Morales reflected racial divisions between the nation’s Indian majority and those with European ancestry.

Though the results of Sunday’s referendum are not official, about 60 percent of voters approved the new charter, according to preliminary results.

Mr. Morales said the vote reflected the end of a colonial era for his nation, one of the poorest in Latin America.

Opposition leaders called the contest a technical draw, claiming that majorities in the nation’s eastern lowlands voted against it.

As the vote count proceeded Monday, however, the eastern province of Pando switched from the “no” to the “yes” column, as did another province, Chuquisaca.

That left three of nine provinces where a majority of votes counted opposed the new charter.

“The constitution promotes a reverse system of exclusion by which non-Indians and city dwellers would be disenfranchised,” said Mario Cossio, governor of Tarija province, where voters rejected the charter.

The document was rejected in areas with mestizo (mixed race) and European-descended majorities, which are concentrated in the resource-rich east.

It won overwhelming support in Western highland provinces dominated by an impoverished Indian majority, from which Mr. Morales draws his support.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood congratulated Bolivia on the vote.

“I don´t think the results are final at this point, but we look forward to working with the Bolivian government in ways we can to further democracy and, you know, prosperity in the hemisphere,” Mr. Wood said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the results a victory for Mr. Morales’ effort to lead a “peaceful and democratic revolution.”

Mr. Morales and Mr. Chavez advocate a socialist system that nationalizes resources and key industries in an effort to redistribute wealth to the poor.

The constitution also allows for a system of voting that would guarantee an Indian majority in Congress through the creation of “special original indigenous peasant” districts.

Constitutional lawyer Hugo Acha said this provision will allow small Indian communities of just a few hundred people to elect their own voting members of Congress.

The constitution would also allow Mr. Morales to run for a second five-year term in December, when voters will elect a Congress under the new rules.

The document subjects private property to “collective interest,” which opponents fear could be used as a pretext for government seizure of large landholdings.

Mr. Morales was elected president in 2005 as leader of a peasant movement pledged to a sweeping redistribution of Bolivia’s wealth. He is Bolivia’s first Indian president.

Even though early results and national exit polling indicated that Mr. Morales’ victory could exceed 60 percent, the president of Bolivia’s electoral council, Jose Luis Exeni, said that official results would not be announced until Feb. 20.

Some opponents called this an unusually long delay and said it reflects strong rejection in the eastern provinces of Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni, as well as a larger than expected no vote in urban areas.

There were also charges of election fraud, and copies of the constitution were burned at some opposition rallies Monday.

The 54-page constitutional text includes 411 articles and sets up what Mr. Acha, the constitutional lawyer, called a “dual system of justice.”

Bolivia’s 36 Indian jurisdictions recognized in the constitution “will exercise their jurisdictional functions through their own principles, values, cultures norms and procedures,” according to Article 190 of the text.

“All public authorities and persons will accept the decisions of the original indigenous peasant jurisdiction” says Article 192.

Mr. Cossio, the provincial governor, said the constitution is designed for a “totalitarian regime” controlled through an “ethnically based bureaucracy.”

As results were tallied Sunday night, Mr. Morales said: “Original Bolivians who have been here for a thousand years are many but poor. Recently arrived Bolivians are few but rich.”


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