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Bolivians OK rewriting constitution

Mon., Jan. 26, 2009

LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian voters embraced a new constitution Sunday that promises more power for the poor indigenous majority and grants leftist President Evo Morales a shot at remaining in office through 2014.

“Brothers and sisters, the colonial state ends here,” Morales, 49, told a huge crowd in front of the presidential palace after the results were announced. “Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians.”

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 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.

The constitution also limits the size of future land holdings.

Tags: Bolivia

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