Morales sees no obstacle to third term
September 25, 2010 - Reuters

Bolivia's leftist president, Evo Morales, said yesterday there was no constitutional reason to stop him seeking a third term if he decides to stand for re-election.

Morales, the poor Andean nation's first indigenous president, is a close ideological ally of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. He won easy re-election last year despite fierce opposition from a wealthy elite based in eastern regions.

A new constitution, which aims to give more power to the Indian majority, was passed early last year after bitter wrangling when Morales' allies agreed to insert a clause allowing only one re-election.

However, Morales said: "There is no constitutional obstacle," if he wanted to run for re-election again in the next presidential vote due in 2014.

"Constitutionally, I still have another re-election because my first election, in 2005, was under the previous constitution," he said in an interview in New York, where he was attending the UN General Assembly.

"This is one interpretation, it is our interpretation and is based on constitutionality and legality," said Morales, a 50-year-old former coca farmer who herded llamas in the country's highlands as a boy.
"But for now, I'm focused on this term, I'm not campaigning," he added.

Presidential re-election has become a sensitive issue in the Andes, where Chavez and Ecuador's Rafael Correa have been criticized for amending constitutions to extend their time in office.

Morales' approval ratings are running at above 50%, bolstered by a period of steady economic growth in the region's biggest exporter of natural gas and relative political stability in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

He has rattled investors with a string of nationalizations, part of his strategy to give the state control over basic services and natural resources including the natural gas fields that supply neighboring Brazil and energy-hungry Argentina.

However, the country was relatively unscathed by the global economic slowdown and its small economy expanded 3.4% last year. Expansion is seen speeding up to as much as 4.0% in 2010.

Morales said the strong economy has much to do with his effort to redistribute wealth with policies such as a cash payment to mothers who keep their children in school and for pensioners, benefits he said he wants to increase.

"Peasant families, especially in the highlands, didn't want to have electricity installed in the past, because they couldn't pay the bills ... now a 60-year-old pensioner who gets a welfare payment of 200 Bolivianos per month ($28) can pay the bill for the whole family," he added.