Bolivians set to vote on new constitution
Bolivians head to the polls Sunday to vote on a controversial new charter that boosts rights for indigenous people and nationalizes gas reserves.
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But battles raged over the economic and political issues in the charter, including more state control over natural resources, limits on how much land one can own, regional autonomy, and how many terms a president is allowed to serve. More than 40 people have been killed because of political conflict since Morales took office, according to the Human Rights Foundation in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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In order to draw up the final version, the government compromised with the opposition on key points. Voters Sunday could choose to limit land holdings to 5,000 hectares, but the rule will not be retroactive as long as owners prove their land is not idle. And Morales will only be able to run for office one more time – an important victory for critics who say Morales, a strong ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, is simply seeking to consolidate his power.
The government hopes that the new charter, if passed, will be a tool to heal divides. "There will be more peace afterwards," says Jose Pimentel, a congressman from Morales's party. First, he says, the concessions made should appease the opposition. Its passage also takes away the object of dissent. "They have been able to use the constitution as a space to express opposition to Evo Morales. It is a political strategy that they will no longer have," he says.
Although opposition legislators compromised, many in society have dropped their hostility toward the changes, especially those seeking autonomy in the wealthier provinces, such as Santa Cruz, where many are of European descent. Sergio Mendoza, a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz, says he believes the constitution is the wrong direction for the country and hopes that his regional representatives find ways to push back. "Morales is just governing for the indigenous. A president must govern for all," he says.
Given the tensions in Bolivia, it was a significant breakthrough when politicians were able to come together this fall to agree on a final version.
Previous drafts were boycotted outright. Opposition governors held their own referendums on autonomy last summer, declared illegal by the central government, to reject the constitutional process.
But it was precisely because the situation deteriorated so rapidly – with some 20 killed in protests in September alone – that rivals came together, says Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia and co-editor of Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization. "There was an enormous amount of pressure from various sides, including internationally, to cut a deal that would bring Bolivia back from the brink of widespread violence," he says.