Bolivia vows to press on with constitution vote
September 2, 2008 - Reuters

LA PAZ, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales blasted the country's top electoral court on Tuesday, a day after it rejected his plan to hold a referendum on a controversial new constitution.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, says the constitution will give more power to the poor, Indian majority that makes up his support base, but his rightist opponents say it will give him too much power.

In an effort to advance the stalled reform, Morales set Dec. 7 as the date for the constitutional referendum.

However, the nation's electoral court sent a letter to the government on Monday saying the vote could not take place because Morales had called it by presidential decree rather than by law.

Morales, who is visiting Iran to sign energy agreements, said the court's decision was "political, without a legal basis" and "against the wishes of the Bolivian people," the state news agency ABI reported.

Government officials also rejected the court's decision and vowed to press ahead with the ballot as planned, although they did not say how the government would organize it without the involvement of the electoral court.

"The opinions expressed by the electoral body in a letter ... don't have legal binding, and therefore the referendum ordered by the President must take place," Nationalizations Minister Hector Arce told reporters in La Paz.

Morales, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, would have difficulty passing a law in Congress authorizing the vote because the rightist opposition controls the Senate.

He vowed to revive the stalled constitutional reform after winning more than 67 percent support in a recall vote last month.

Opposition governors in resource-rich eastern regions, who have emerged as Morales' toughest rivals, pledged to boycott any eventual vote on the new constitution.

The draft document, approved last year by an elected assembly that the opposition had boycotted, would let Morales be reelected for a second consecutive term.

Anti-government protesters have held demonstrations and blocked roads in natural gas-rich regions governed by the opposition demanding Morales calls off the vote. (Reporting by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Eric Walsh)