Bolivia Court Suspends Constitution Vote
March 8, 2008 - Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivia's top electoral authority on Friday indefinitely postponed a May 4 referendum on a new constitution intended to give more political power to the nation's long-oppressed indigenous groups.

Citing logistical concerns, the National Electoral Court ruled that it would be impossible to ensure the "legal guarantees, sufficient time and adequate electoral environment" on such short notice for the referendum, which is backed by President Evo Morales.

It also suspended referendums planned in four opposition-controlled eastern states on proposals to declare greater autonomy.

"The National Electoral Court's decision is fair as long as the state electoral courts" also abide by it, said Cesar Navarro, a legislator from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party. "But it's not fair if the decision only puts the brakes on the national referendum."

Regional leaders vowed to press on with those votes.

Lawmakers from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party last month passed a bill sending the new constitution to voters in May, over the objections of opposition groups who walked out of the constitutional assembly that drafted the document in 2007.

If approved, Morales' constitution would outline a detailed bill of rights and considerable autonomy for the country's 36 indigenous groups, long shut out of power by the country's elite.

Opponents say the charter places Indians over the rest of the population and fails to address the autonomy demands of the eastern states, which are fighting Morales' land redistribution plan and want to keep more of the region's natural gas revenues.