Bolivia electoral court blocks constitution vote
September 2, 2008 - The Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia's National Electoral Court has suspended a referendum on a new constitution, delivering a blow to President Evo Morales' plans to empower the long-marginalized indigenous majority.

The electoral court on Monday ruled only lawmakers have the authority to set a date for the referendum, suspending the president's decree for a Dec. 7 vote.

The decision apparently stalls the referendum indefinitely, since the Senate is controlled by an opposition bitterly against the draft document, which would also allow presidential re-election.

"It is in the hands of Congress" to pass a bill calling for the vote, court President Jose Luis Exeni told reporters. "It will be that body that calls the referendum."

There was no immediate reaction from the administration of Morales, who was traveling in Iran with his spokesman.

Morales sought the vote after winning a 67 percent vote of confidence in an August recall election.

But his attempts to change the constitution, redirect natural gas revenues to the poor and redistribute fallow land have met with staunch opposition from the country's energy-rich eastern provinces, whose governors also survived the recall.

The draft charter was approved in December by a special Constituent Assembly, but only after opposition delegates walked out of the debate. The document must be approved by Bolivian voters before it can take effect.