Bolivian constitutional referendum, 2008

Bolivian constitutional referendum, 2008

A constitutional referendum will be held in Bolivia on 7 December 2008, although this date is uncertain as the Supreme Court ruled that the president did not have the right to call the election. It will affect the constitution that was drafted by the Bolivian Constituent Assembly. This referendum had been delayed from its initially planned date of 4 May 2008.


Under President Evo Morales, the Constituent Assembly was elected on 2 July 2006. The referendum should originally have taken place after 6 August 2007, but the Assembly's validity was extended until 14 December 2007. On 9 December 2007, the Assembly approved the draft; on 14 December, the Assembly officially handed the constitution draft over to the Parliament.

The referendum will consist of two questions: The first will let voters decide between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares as the maximum size for an estate, while the second question will be about the adoption of the newly drafted constitution.

The Bolivian Congress adopted the law calling for the referendum on 28 February 2008 under doubtful circumstances; reportedly, the opposition was partially locked out to ensure the bill would pass. A law was also approved and signed by Morales that permitted only Congress to call departmental referendums, thereby barring the departmental referendums on autonomy that had also been called for 4 May.


The new constitution includes the following provisions:

  • It acknowledges Bolivia as a unitary plurinational state.
  • National resources are the exclusive dominion of the Bolivian people, administered by the state.
  • The number of MPs was reduced, while the number of senators was increased; the MPs will be elected by first past the post voting in the future, in a change from the previous mixed member proportional system.
  • A mixed economy will be established; in a separate referendum to be held before the constitutional referendum, voters will decide whether to allow private land possession up to 10,000 hectares.
  • Local autonomies and decentralisation will be reformed.
  • Elections to all public bodies will be held if the constitution is approved, and all previous terms will not be considered for term limits; additionally, the president will be allowed to be reelected once, thus allowing Evo Morales two more terms if he decides to pursue this route. Furthermore, if no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote in the presidential election, there will be a second round; up to now, Congress had to decide who would become president in such a case.
  • It introduces the possibility of recall referendums for all elected officials.
  • The judiciary will be reformed, and judges will be elected in the future and no longer appointed by Congress.
  • Sucre will be acknowledged as Bolivia's capital, but the institutions will remain where they are (executive and legislative in La Paz, judiciary in Sucre). The electoral authorities, which will become a fourth constitutional power, will be situated in Sucre.

On 7 March 2008, the National Electoral Court suspended the referendum, along with the opposition's regional referendums, saying that there was not enough time for adequate electoral preparations. Nonetheless, the government of Santa Cruz Department went ahead and held its autonomy referendum as planned, ignoring the Court's interdiction on all referendums. Beni Department and Pando Department held their referendums on 1 June 2008.

In a decree on August 28 2008, Morales declared that the referendum would be held on December 7.


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