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Constituent Assembly Update: June 2007

May 31, 2007

Topics in this issue:

Overview

The leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador are in the process of filling campaign promises to re-draft national constitutions. In Ecuador, over 75 percent of voters supported the convening of a constituent assembly, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is now in the process of preparing for assembly elections on September 30. The session is slated to begin in November or December of this year. Starting a year ahead of its Andean counterpart, Bolivia’s constitutional delegates are now working to consolidate committee proposals into a draft constitution. The 210-member plenary has approximately 40 working days to revise the text in time for a national referendum scheduled for August 6.

Ecuador prepares for Assembly elections

The approval of the Assembly is a victory for President Correa’s campaign pledge to re-draft the 1998 constitution, which he sees as not adequately responding to the country’s social and economic

Dominican Republic Proposes Constitutional Reform: Recently, leaders have renewed calls for constitutional reform in the Dominican Republic.Among the proposed revisions is a move to combine the 32-member Senate and 178-member House of Representatives into a unicameral chamber.

needs. The official electoral campaign is scheduled for August 14 to September 27; candidates can register through June 19. Of the 130 assembly seats, 100 posts are reserved for provincial representatives, while 24 seats will be elected at a national level and six are reserved to represent Ecuadorians overseas. The TSE is quickly moving forward with election preparations, and has outlined specific caps on how much each party or coalition can spend during the campaign cycle. 

 

The upcoming election will take place in a politically charged climate. The TSE dismissed 57 members of the 100-body Congress in the wake of the referendum’s approval. The legislators were accused of obstructing justice by voting to remove the TSE President, who had granted permission to hold the referendum. Replacement deputies then voted in line with the executive and approved a constituent assembly. Correa’s strong popular support—hovering near 70 percent according to a May poll by Cedatos—and the public’s overall distrust of political elites partly account for the relative ease in carrying out the congressional restructuring. 

Bolivian representatives in the final stretch

The Constituent Assembly is in high gear preparing for the August 6 national referendum. Committees must present draft articles by June 11—a nearly two week extension from the original deadline—so that the majority Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party and opposition can begin to reconcile differences. Attempting to expedite the process, committee presidents and vice presidents met with the grassroots organizations at the core of MAS popular support with the goal of consolidating approximately 30 constitutional articles. The late May meeting ended with delegates unable to reach consensus.

If the referendum date does not change, the plenary will have a total of 40 working days to debate the constitutional proposals.  However, representatives of the MAS and Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) parties are pushing for a vote on June 15 vote to postpone the August 6 constitutional referendum. Leaders of Social Democratic Power (PODEMOS) believe the assembly must respect the referendum date established in the convoking law and complete work within the established timetable. 

Several of the more contentious articles—some already approved in committee despite PODEMOS abstention—relate to government structure and term limits. One proposal would allow the re-election of public officials, a provision the opposition see as enabling President Morales to hold office until 2018. Another debate surrounds departmental autonomy versus the devolution of certain governance decisions to indigenous communities. Further, MAS has proposed a unicameral 167-member congress, with 70 legislators directly elected by indigenous groups. 

Economic and natural resource rights are also challenges for the Assembly. PODEMOS and National Unity (UN) advocate a pluralistic economy that both promotes private enterprise and welcomes state participation. The MAS is divided between those who favor greater natural resource rights for indigenous communities—namely, the Confederación de Indígenas del Oriente Boliviano and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Kollasuyo—and the party leadership, which supports greater state ownership. 

Another controversial issue is the MAS-supported “right of reply and rectification.”  According to MAS spokesperson Marco Carrillo, this right would complement PODEMOS’ call for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. If passed, a public Defender of Information would be established to ensure that media publication of erroneous information or individual defamation would be corrected. This potential constitutional right, Carrillo says, would mandate greater social accountability over media communications.

Highlights of Proposed Bolivian Bill of Rights:
  • Right to prompt, adequate, effective, and free justice.
  • Right to an individual or collective petition, whether oral or written, and obtainment of a prompt and formal reply.
  • Right to cultural identity.
  • Right to freedom of expression of ideas and opinions with the right of reply and rectification.
  • Right to liberty of meeting and association, in pubic or private form, with licit ends.
  • Right to equality with equity.
  • Right to individual and collective property.
  • Right to receive an integral, no-cost and intercultural education.
  • Right to adequate housing.
  • Right to work without discrimination and with just remuneration.