Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Morales wins the authority to push through reforms

HUNGER STRIKE The opposition protested after the ruling party passed a motion that will allow it to give its supporters a greater say

AP , LA PAZ

Supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales have won a key vote at the constitutional assembly allowing them to draft populist reforms without input from opposition parties, although any final document must still be approved by two-thirds of the body.

In a heated session at the assembly to rewrite Bolivia's constitution, delegates from the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party passed a motion late on Friday requiring the assembly's decisions to be made by a simple majority vote. The party controls 137 of the assembly's 235 seats.

The vote, following three months of bitter debate over the assembly's bylaws, gives MAS the power to push through the president's reforms without input from centrist and conservative opposition parties.

Morales, the nation's first Indian president, wants the new framework to grant Bolivia's social movements, indigenous groups, and labor unions greater say in the country's government. His vice president has suggested replacing Bolivia's Senate with some form of popular assembly.

A final draft of a new constitution, however, must still be approved by two-thirds of the assembly.

Opposition delegates, led by the conservative party Podemos, have fought to have all votes decided by two-thirds. This week they hung a huge Bolivian flag printed with the slogan "Two-thirds is Democracy" from the balcony of the historic theater where the assembly meets.

Morales has said that requiring such a majority on every motion would condemn the assembly to deadlock.

Samuel Doria Medina, leader of the centrist National Unity Party and Morales' opponent in last year's presidential election, called for a hunger strike this week to protest the MAS push for majority rule.

He and other opposition delegates appeared on national television drinking thermoses of coca tea to fight their hunger pangs.

In the capital, La Paz, those who joined the hunger strike were harassed by MAS supporters, who shouted insults and banged on the wooden doors of a cathedral where the strikers had taken refuge.

The assembly, convened in August in the colonial capital of Sucre, 400km southeast of La Paz, has a year to draw up a new constitution. Their final draft will be submitted to a popular vote at the end of next year.

The conservative opposition wants the new constitution to grant greater autonomy for the four wealthier states in Bolivia's eastern lowlands.

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