by Dan Aspan
Special to iVoryTowerz
On Sunday, Jan. 25, Bolivians lined up at the polls to vote on a new constitution, which passed easily.
While the events at the polls went peacefully, there was no denying the tension formulating between leftist President Evo Morales and his opposition. The new constitution gives Morales a chance to stay in power until 2014. Under the old constitution, Morales would not have been able to immediately run for re-election, because the old constitution's term limits said a president cannot exceed two, five-year, non-consecutive terms. The new constitution also grants more congressional seats for indigenous (Indian) political groups.
Bolivia has an Indian majority population, but the group has faced oppression from white and mestizo minorities. Some of the Indians in Bolivia are old enough to remember a time when they were unable to vote. However, the indigenous have been gradually gaining political power and support.
In 2005, Morales was elected as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He continued to reverse the trend of inequality and racial oppression, reaching out to the poor and raising the literacy rate. He is an ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, but does not enjoy the same economic prosperity that Chavez does; Bolivia is South America’s poorest country.
Although the vote went peacefully, the new constitution will only exacerbate racial tension in Bolivia and could result in a major violent uproar in the near future. Morales believes the new constitution will re-incorporate indigenous values into Bolivian society, something which was lost at the time of Spanish invasion. The document also eliminates the mention of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, it invokes the name of the Andean earth deity Pachamama.
While Morales views the constitution as an empowerment to the weak and deprived, his opponents view it as discriminatory. Many of Morales’ political enemies are taking it as a sign that they are being left in the dust. It is unclear what this new constitution will bring to a country that has faced great political turmoil and violent clashes. Some ask if civil war lurks in the background. For now, the people of Bolivia are in for an immediate future filled with extreme tension and uncertainty.
(For more background on Bolivian politics, please see: "Bolivia: Evo Morales & the Recall.")
(The photo of President Evo Morales of Bolivia is by Antônio Cruz of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which allows use of its photos through a Creative Commons license.)
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by Dan Aspan