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Bolivia votes on constitutional referendum to expand power of indigenous majority

[JURIST] Bolivians began voting Sunday morning on a proposed constitution [PDF text, in Spanish] supported by President Evo Morales [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile]. The proposed changes [Reuters report] would give the state control over the country's natural gas deposits, would require members of the country's supreme court [official website, in Spanish] to be elected by national vote and would give Morales himself the option of remaining in power until 2014. The referendum is widely expected to succeed [AP report] with near-unanimous support from the country's indigenous majority, which stands to gain greater representation in the Bolivian National Congress [official website, in Spanish] than it enjoys under the current constitution [text, in Spanish]. Christian groups have opposed the referendum [Wall Street Journal report], which elevates Andean deity Pachamama [BBC backgrounder] to the same level of Christianity's God and does not explicitly ban gay marriage or abortion. In addition to the constitutional referendum, Bolivian voters also were asked to approve a cap on private land holdings.

In October 2008, the Bolivian National Congress ratified [JURIST report] the proposed reforms [JURIST news archive] after Morales agreed not to run for re-election in 2014, setting up the national referendum. In August 2008, Morales won a referendum to continue his presidency, which he personally proposed in a bid to legitimize his campaign [JURIST reports] for the constitutional changes.

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