Bolivian Assembly Attempts to Pass Draft Constitution

By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 9, 2007

LIMA, Peru, Dec. 8 -- The members of Bolivia's constitutional assembly reconvened Saturday evening to try to pass a draft of a controversial new charter that has thrown the country into crisis in recent weeks.

President Evo Morales's supporters in the assembly announced early Saturday that they would gather during the evening in Oruro, the central province where Morales was born. The last-minute announcement of the time and place of the meeting was intended to reduce the possibility of violent protests like those that occurred two weeks ago, when Morales's supporters approved a rough draft of the document without the participation of the political opposition.

Morales's supporters -- who represent a slim majority of the assembly -- say that a new constitution would allow him to "de-colonize" the country and direct more resources and political clout to the country's indigenous majority. But his opponents warn that he is using the constitution to centralize power and create a nondemocratic socialist state.

Assembly leaders said they expected that at least two-thirds of the 255-member group would begin to read all 408 articles of a detailed draft Saturday evening and vote on each.

"With this completion of the job, we have a new constitution approved by a two-thirds vote, and if some of the articles don't get two-thirds, an arrangement will try to be reached, and if there's no agreement, they will be sent to a referendum," Carlos Romero, an assembly member from Morales's party, said in a statement Saturday.

The opposition, led by several of the country's nine regional governors, has said that Morales is subverting democracy and trying to ram the constitution through the approval process. Morales last week called for a referendum to let voters decide whether he and the governors will keep their jobs.

Four of the country's governors traveled to the United States last week to appeal for action from the United Nations and the Organization of American States. On Friday, the commander of Bolivia's air force accused the opposition governors of trying to foment a coup.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company