Monday, April 28, 2008

Illegal Autonomy Referendum Deepens Division in Bolivia

Andean Information Network

Santa Cruz and the other lowland departments of Bolivia plan to go ahead with a referendum to approve autonomy statutes, setting a new system of government for the department on May 4th, in spite of the National Electoral Court ruling forbidding the referendum and the disapproval of the international community. Speculation and tension continue to soar and the potential for conflict and even violence is high. Santa Cruz regional elites argue that the national constitutional draft, which was nominally approved in December of 2007, primarily by MAS delegates, is illegal and invalid. The Morales administration claims that the vote on autonomy statutes is illegal because the new constitution already includes a process for departmental, regional, municipal and indigenous governments to obtain autonomy.

National Electoral Court Brakes Race for Referendums

In February 2008, lowland departmental leaders and the Morales administration began a breakneck race to convoke referendums to approve the national constitution, and departmental equivalents, autonomy statutes, in an effort to block each others’ initiatives. As tensions grew the president of the National Electoral Court ruled that none of the initiatives had a sufficient legal mandate, and put them on hold indefinitely, “until there is a law to convoke them. Furthermore, we mandate that this law must respect the 90 day minimum planning period... We advocate that the departmental governors cannot convoke referendums on autonomy statutes. This is the responsibility of Congress and Departmental Electoral Courts cannot mandate referendums, it is the National Electoral Court’s job.” [1]

Although the MAS government accepted the ruling and canceled the national referendum to approve the constitution, three departmental governments refused to comply and continue to plan referendums. Santa Cruz forged ahead with plans to approve its autonomy statutes in violation of several laws. Legally, departments that voted for autonomy in 2006 must wait for the approval of the new constitution to set guidelines before approving statutes. [2] Furthermore, Bolivian law requires that the Constitutional Tribunal, currently not functioning because of a lack of quorum, must rule that the question presented in a referendum is constitutional.

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