Bolivia's fragile calm threatened as Congress fails to call early elections

Caretaker President Eduardo Rodriguez reaffirmed pledge to leave the post as soon as possible

Eduardo Rodriguez, Caretaker President of BoliviaAs the National Congress fails to reach an agreement on when and how it will lead the process to early general elections, social movements in Bolivia began losing patience and threatened to return to the streets after four weeks of tense calm. In the meantime, caretaker President, Eduardo Rodriguez reaffirmed the pledge to call on elections as soon as possible, as the National Constitution of this embattled South American republic orders.

"There is no alternative but to call for the immediate closure of parliament ... if not, we are returning to the streets," said to the press Abel Mamani, one of Bolivia's top indigenous leaders and head of the neighbourhood councils in the militant city of El Alto. On the contrary, the main opposition leader, Evo Morales, had said on Wednesday that he was ready to support Rodriguez until he completes the current term, which expires in 2007. “We have to find a way to adapt the law to this”, had said Morales.

Presidential elections are to be held in December and Congress met to vote on a proposal to hold general elections and renew Congress at the same time. But the Parliament is split in many factions who represent different interests and fails to reach to common timetable to reach that goal.

The indigenous and leftist parties want first a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and give Bolivia's poor Indian majority more power. The conservative parties that have traditionally ruled Bolivia insisted that the constituent assembly take place in 2006, after the new President has been elected.

Bolivia's electoral system has repeatedly prevented the poor majority from taking power, because the second run is not open, as the Congress is the only entitled to elect between the two most voted candidates. In a fragmented scenario as the one in Bolivia, is very difficult for a candidate to get the 50% of the votes to become President without second run. Therefore, under this law, presidents are being elected by the Congress, where conservative forces enjoy a comfortable majority.

Analysts believe that the deadlock is a blow to the stability anchored by caretaker President Eduardo Rodriguez, who took over on June 9 after the former president, Carlos Mesa, quit amid the increasingly violent protests, the second president to do so in 20 months. "We hope this failure will only last some hours," said lower house president Mario Cossio after three days of debate. "We have to find a consensus."

Photo: Caretaker President Eduardo Rodriguez

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Author`s name Olga Savka