Bolivia's rebel governors agree to recall vote
July 4, 2008 - Reuters

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Regional governors pushing for greater autonomy from Bolivia's central government said Friday they will not boycott an August recall vote that could force them out of office despite initially resisting the ballot.

"We're definitely going to the recall vote, which is ... a whim of the president, because we have a responsibility toward our people and to push forward the autonomy (movement)," Ruben Costas, governor of Santa Cruz province, told reporters.

Costas spoke on behalf of four of the country's nine governors, who are fierce critics of leftist President Evo Morales and who demand more autonomy for their relatively prosperous, eastern provinces.

Costas' comments marked a change of strategy since the opposition governors vowed to boycott the recall vote scheduled for August 10. Still, Costas criticized the vote proposed by Morales as an attempt to undermine the pro-autonomy opposition, saying "it won't solve the country's problems."

The autonomy push is at the heart of a long power struggle between the central government and the rightist opposition, which lost leverage after Morales took office in January 2006 as the country's first president of indigenous descent.

Morales is striving to empower the majority Indian population and return key economic sectors to state control. His reforms are popular in western Andean areas, populated chiefly by Aymara and Quechua Indians.

He has encountered opposition in the wealthier eastern regions of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, governed by rightist politicians and home to mixed-race Bolivians.

This week, opposition lawmakers allied with pro-autonomy governors called for changes to voting rules in the recall referendum, an apparent bid to improve the governors' chances of surviving the ballot.

The vote will ask Bolivians whether Morales should stay in power.

Under current rules, he would be forced to call early elections if the number of votes against him exceeded the number of votes he won when elected in December 2005, or 53.7 percent of the vote.

The same rules apply to regional governors, who won office with a range of support between 37.9 percent to 48 percent.

(Reporting by Eduardo Garcia, editing by Todd Eastham)