Evo Appeals for Dialogue and the Opposition Challenges Him to Win His Mandate at a Recall Referendum

Abruptly, and at record speed, the Senate passed a law to hold a recall referendum.

President Evo Morales invited the opposition governors of the “Media Luna” (the half-moon-shaped region composed of the Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija departments) to resume dialogue on Monday afternoon with an agenda for open discussion and offered guarantees for autonomy within limits of law.  The opposition forces responded to the president’s appeal by passing, at record speed, a law to hold a recall referendum on the mandates of the president, the vice president, and governors.

Trying to pave a path to a pact, President Morales said he was willing to accept any kind of international mediators and observers.  Vice President Álvaro García Linera, hopeful that the opposition governors would respond positively to the appeal, suggested this morning that they reach a consensus on a “package of decisions” to exit the political crisis, including a recall referendum.

But the opposition in the Senate responded to the executive branch’s invitation by approving at record speed a law to plan a referendum on whether to recall the highest national and departmental authorities that was introduced by the president himself and that has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies .

The opposition lawmakers, who have a majority in the Senate, passed the recall plan by a large majority, rapidly approved all terms of each of its articles, established its rules, and sent it to the executive branch for enactment.  They argue that the time has come for the people to decide whose position is right in the current political crisis — the government or the opposition.

If the president does not sign or veto the law within 10 days, the vice president and the Congress could give the green light to the referendum.  If Morales does not sign the law, he would leave an impression of great political weakness.

MAS Senator Félix Rojas said that the congressional caucus who supports the executive branch is in agreement with the law for a recall referendum but does not consider it sensible or appropriate to support it at a moment when efforts are being made to bring the government and the opposition to an agreement.  Now the country is calling for resumption of dialogue, but if this referendum plan is authorized, it will harm the chance of any political rapprochement, he said.

Senator Antonio Peredo (MAS) said that the opposition is seeking to put the president “off balance” vis-à-vis what is happening in the country.  “Given the illegal fashion in which the referendums are held in the departments, they want to give the president a hot potato; they are seeking an open confrontation between the central government and the governors,” he said.

According to the rules established by the Senate this Wednesday, to recall the president and the vice president, more than 53.7% of voters must vote against them at the referendum.  If both authorities lost the mandate, general elections would be held immediately.

The opposition maneuver is intended to block any attempt on the part of the government supporters to adopt laws for constitutional referenda, to ratify the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly, and to put an end to controversy and set a ceiling on land ownership (5,000 or 10,000 hectares).

Before the “head start” of the opposition, García Linera announced in the morning that the central government will respect the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, expressed his full support for all democratically elected authorities in Bolivia, and called for dialogue.  After meeting with Vice President García Linera, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg suggested that the OAS, friendly countries, the Catholic Church, or another institution chosen by the parties in conflict could mediate the dialogue.

The original article in Spanish was published in Bolpress on 8 May 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).

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