Besieged Morales pins hopes on popular vote

Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, is urging his deeply divided country to come together, two days before a potentially explosive national referendum on whether he and eight powerful regional governors should stay in office.

Sunday's recall referendum is the latest stage of a struggle pitting Mr Morales, a leftist and the first indigenous leader of a country that is more than 60 per cent American Indian, against the governors and old political establishment, over his attempts to reform the constitution.

The struggle has turned increasingly violent: two people were killed in demonstrations this week and several more injured.

The unrest forced Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who is Mr Morales' chief ally in the hemisphere, and President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina to call off planned visits to Bolivia, during which a natural gas export deal had been due for signature.

The head of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, has also declared himself "deeply concerned" about the worsening turn of events, warning that "violence, confrontations and grave disagreements" could prevent a peaceful solution to the crisis.

On Wednesday, security concerns obliged Mr Morales to hold the Independence Day celebrations in his power base of La Paz rather than Sucre, the constitutional capital that is run by the opposition. He was also unable to visit the central town of Trinidad, where his plane did not land after protesters surrounded the airport.

Addressing supporters in the centre of La Paz, the President inveighed against "small and privileged groups" opposed to change, who were using demands for regional autonomy as a cover for their goal of separatism and independence. "These groups do not want equality among Bolivians, they do not respect the identity and diversity of our people," he declared.

Mr Morales, who took office in January 2006, hopes a referendum win – which some recent polls have predicted – will boost his position, providing a mandate for further constitutional reforms in his remaining two-and-a-half years in office. These would include moves to enshrine land redistribution to Bolivia's indigenous majority and greater wealth sharing between the resource-rich eastern regions and the poorer mountainous west. Mr Morales would also be allowed to run for a second five-year term.

This is not the first time such tensions, and demands by the eastern provinces for autonomy, have flared up, and if the country's history is any guide, some form of compromise will be reached. But this conflict runs especially deep.

Like President Chavez, Mr Morales has nationalised key sectors of the economy, such as energy and telecommunications, antagonising industrial and landowning elites, overwhelmingly of European ancestry.

The draft constitution put forward by the government would limit large land holdings and encourage land reform. The proposals have drawn fierce opposition, along with other plans to give an expanded share of state revenues and more political say to the majority native population.

Under rules laid down by the National Electoral Court, the President and Vice-President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, will only be ousted if more than 53.74 per (the proportion that backed them in the 2005 presidential election) vote for their removal.

Regional governors however have been told they will need an absolute majority to stay in office – which could be problematic, given that the eight facing recall were only elected with between 38 and 48 per cent of the vote. Not surprisingly, some of them have publicly declared they will not accept defeat on Sunday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine