Bolivians approved New Constitution
After few poll countings, the Bolivian government has stated its proposed constitution was approved in Sunday´s referendum. However, the local and divided opposition was reluctant to concede defeat. "opposition leaders celebrated as well as five of nine states rejected the constitution." "A final tally will be announced in 10 days."
An unofficial quick count of votes in Bolivia's constitutional referendum has shown a solid majority of voters backing moves to grant greater power to the country's indigenous majority. The changes have been pushed by Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, who would also be allowed to run for a second consecutive five year term in office in December elections if the constitution is approved. Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president and enjoys the support of the majority of the country's six million Amerindians. He has said the new constitution would "decolonise" South America's poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under centuries of oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest. According to results of a quick count by a private polling company, the proposed reforms were backed by 56.8 per cent of voters and opposed by 43.2 per cent, with more than 90 per cent of precincts reporting. If the results are confirmed the new constitution would give indigenous Bolivians a share of profits from natural resources and greater access to government. But the proposed reforms have put the country's indigenous people at odds with Bolivia’s elite, who are traditionally of European descent. "We await your participation in this democratic celebration," Morales said on local radio, ahead of Sunday's vote. "This is the first time a constitution will be voted on by the Bolivian people." Bolivia's Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and other indigenous groups only won the right to vote in 1952. The proposals include a larger state role in the economy, grants of self-rule to 36 distinct indigenous "nations" and a December general election, in which Morales could run for another five-year term. Voters also decided on whether future land ownership should be capped at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares. The state could seize land that does not perform a "social function" or was fraudulently obtained. 'Same rights': "This new constitution of the Bolivian state wants to give everybody the same opportunities, the same rights and the same duties. And there shouldn't be exclusion anymore," Morales said in the capital La Paz on Saturday. Morales strong support is likely to see the referendum passed. He won 67 per cent of the vote in a recall referendum in August 2008. "Evo Morales will win, because he is a good president and he is helping children and old people. So we will vote 'yes'," Norita Manami, a Morales supporter, said. But despite strong support for Morales, the vote could prove divisive with the country split along geographic, racial and class lines. The opposition, led by state governors in the more prosperous east, has objected to the proposed changes and opponents of Morales still hold a majority in the senate.Al Jazeera's Latin America Editor, Lucia Newman, said that is likely to prove problematic because even if the constitution is formally approved, it will require hundreds of new laws to be passed by congress to support the articles it contains. Many critics have accused Morales of harming the economy through the nationalisation of a number of businesses. "This is a false referendum, it does not have the participation nor the support of half of the Bolivian people. We people from the east [the lowlands of Bolivia] don't expect anything good from it," Percy Ruiz, an opponent of Morales, said. However, the opposition allowed the referendum to go ahead after Morales agreed to stand for only one additional term and grant greater autonomy to the regions. Nearly four million Bolivians were registered to vote in the referendum monitored by international observers.
The central reform of Morales' three-year administration won 59 percent to 41 percent, according to an unofficial quick count by television network ATB, with a three-percentage point margin of error. A final tally will be announced in 10 days. Morales, an Aymara Indian and Bolivia's first indigenous president, says the charter will ''decolonize'' South America's poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost since 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.''The poorest people are the majority. The people with money are only a tiny few,'' said voter Eloy Huanca at a polling place in El Alto outside the capital of La Paz. ''They ran things before, and now it's our turn.'' But opposition leaders object 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 oppose Morales' vision of greater state control of the economy. The constitution's rejection by the nation's mestizo and European-descended minority foreshadows a political battle over how to interpret vague clauses outlining hotly contested eastern autonomies. The constitution's 59 percent support in some ways is a setback for Morales, who polled 67 percent support in an August recall election. On Sunday, opposition leaders celebrated as well as five of nine states rejected the constitution. ''In five states we have another vision of the country,'' said Moises Shiriqui, the cowboy-hatted mayor of the eastern provincial capital of Trinidad. ''We're asking government to listen to the regions for the first time, and to govern for all.'' Morales has allied himself closely with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what they call ''21st century socialism,'' sharing his anti-American rhetoric. Last year, Morales booted out Bolivia's U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents after claiming they had conspired against his government last year. The constitution will 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. The charter calls for a general election in December in which Morales could run for a second, consecutive five-year term. The current constitution permits two terms, but not consecutively. At the heart of the constitution is a provision granting autonomy for 36 indigenous ''nations'' and several opposition-controlled eastern states. But both are given a vaguely defined ''equal rank'' that fails to resolve their rival claims over open land in Bolivia's fertile eastern lowlands, whose large agribusiness interests and valuable gas reserves drive much of the country's economy. With an eye to redistributing territory in the region, the constitution also limits future land holdings to either 12,000 or 24,000 acres (5,000 or 10,000 hectares), depending which voters choose. Current landholders are exempt from the cap -- a nod to the east's powerful cattle and soy industries, which fiercely oppose the proposal. Sunday's vote went peacefully, a relief for a nation where political tensions have recently turned deadly. In 2007, three college students were killed in anti-government riots, and 13 mostly indigenous Morales supporters died in September when rioters seized government buildings to block a vote on the proposed constitution. Elected in 2005 on a promise to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas industry, Morales has increased the state's presence throughout the economy and expanded benefits for the poor. Morales' constitutional reform nearly failed in 2006, when an assembly convened to rewrite the constitution broke apart along largely racial lines. In an October deal, Congress approved holding the referendum only after Morales agreed to seek one more term instead of two. instead of two.