November 19, 2006 7:20 pm

Morales moves to consolidate Bolivian power

Concerns over Bolivia’s stability grew at the weekend as Evo Morales, the president, made efforts to concentrate power.

Mr Morales threatened to purge elected regional governors, vowed to mobilise protesters to force the Senate to approve his land reform measures, and won complete control of an assembly that is rewriting the constitution.

The prefects of six of Bolivia’s nine departments – including leaders of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba – held an emergency meeting at the weekend. They promised to challenge Mr Morales’s bid to strengthen central government oversight with the ultimate sanction that they could be sacked by the president.

The regional governors said they were “breaking relations with the executive and not attending any meeting convoked by the president in which he tries to change the structure of government, undermine the law and destabilise elected authorities”.

Mr Morales accused the local leaders of overreacting.

“If there’s transparency and honesty in the management of the people’s money, no national authority need fear the people and their institutions,” he said.

The dispute came a day after allies of Mr Morales in the constituent assembly – an elected body responsible for drafting a new constitution – triumphed in a three-month battle over the rules governing the body.

The governing MAS party, which has 137 of the assembly’s 255 seats, had been fighting for individual clauses to be approved by a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds that the opposition wanted. The body has been paralysed by the debate since it began work in August.

But late on Friday night, the constitutional court refused to hear opposition complaints on the issue, and Mr Morales’s supporters forced a vote through establishing the simple majority rule, although the complete document will need two-thirds approval.

Samuel Doria Medina, head of the small National Unity party, is on hunger strike against the decision, while Carlos Alberto Goitia, of Podemos, the main opposition party, said his bloc “cannot tolerate this imposition by the MAS”.

Mr Morales at the weekend threatened to force the opposition-controlled Senate to pass his land reform.

“If certain legislators don’t want to change the law, the people will rise up to change it by force,” he said.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organisation of American States, warned that Bolivia’s democratisation “could be seriously affected by political instability”.

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