Wed, May 14, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Morales gambles political future with August recall

'NO FEAR OF THE PEOPLE' If the Bolivian president loses in the referendum, he would be forced to call a presidential election in between three and six months

AP , LA PAZ

Bolivian President Evo Morales committed himself and Bolivia's nine governors on Monday to face recall votes on Aug. 10, gambling that his unfinished term would survive a referendum whose peculiar rules tilt in the populist leader’s favor.

“Personally I have no fear of the people,” Morales said. “Let the people judge us.”

Morales originally proposed the recall vote in December amid a fierce battle over his proposed draft constitution that would increase the political power of Bolivia’s long-oppressed indigenous majority. Bolivia’s lower house of Congress approved it.

But the idea went nowhere until last week, when it was revived by the opposition-controlled Senate.

The president’s opponents figured Morales had been weakened by the landslide victory of the autonomy measure in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest and richest state. But they rushed the recall referendum through without considering the fine print — which clearly gives Morales the upper hand.

The referendum requires removal from office if the officials get more “no” votes than the votes they won when they were elected in 2005. The percentage of “no” votes also must top the candidates’ previous winning percentage.

Morales won the presidency with 53.7 percent of the vote, a historic mandate in a country where presidents sometimes take office with half as much support.

If 54 percent vote against him in August — and the “no” votes top the 1.5 million ballots he won in 2005 — he would be forced to call for a new presidential election.

If either “no” count falls short — for example, if 1.6 million Bolivians vote against Morales but turnout is high enough to keep their votes below 53.7 percent — he would remain in office.

Bolivia’s governors, however, all won office with less than 50 percent of the vote — setting a much lower bar for their “no” votes.

The opposition governor of La Paz state, Jose Luis Paredes, won the pro-Morales stronghold with only 38 percent in 2005. If 39 percent of the state votes against him in the recall, he would be removed from office — even if 61 percent vote to keep him.

Should Morales lose, he must call a new presidential election to be held between three and six months.

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