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Bolivia president loses referendum to extend presidency to fourth term

[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] on Wednesday acknowledged the outcome of a failed constitutional referendum that would have permitted him to remain in power for a fourth consecutive term. Voting on the referendum took place last Sunday, and following a two-day count of the votes, the nation's electoral commission ruled the proposal was rejected by a vote of 51-49 percent [Guardian report]. Morales has occupied the presidential office since 2006 and his current term will keep him in office until 2020. Morales labeled the loss a conspiracy in the press and claimed there was a dirty war [BBC report] against his regime in the weeks leading up to the election. Morales is the longest serving president of Bolivia and the first to come from the country's indigenous majority. According to news reports, a number of voters expressed concern about extending Morales' time in office despite the fact that Morales won by a substantial margin in each of the previous three presidential elections.

The modification of presidential term limits by constitutional reform is a current issue in many nations around the world, especially in Africa. Earlier in February the Parliament of Algeria approved a package of constitutional reforms [JURIST report], including a two-term limit for the office of the president. Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged [JURIST report] African leaders to avoid using loopholes and undemocratic constitutional changes to "cling to power." In his address at the twenty-sixth African Union [official website] Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ban stated, "[l]eaders should never use undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes to cling to power. We have all seen the tragic consequences when they do. Leaders must protect their people, not themselves." In October, the Republic of Congo's electoral commission announced [JURIST report] that voters approved an amendment to the nation's constitution that will allow President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his term in office, thereby overruling the former constitutional age limit of 70 years to hold the office of the president.

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