Bolivia's President Evo Morales and several governors who oppose him are facing a recall referendum Sunday that will decide if they remain in power. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the vote is the latest battle between the left-wing president and his opponents, over a sweeping reform agenda.
Both President Morales and opposition governors agreed to Sunday's ballot, in an effort to rally public support to their side in the long-running dispute over reform plans.
President Morales is backing a constitutional reform plan that aims to give greater power to the nation's majority indigenous community and calls for more state control of natural resources. Several governors in oil and gas-rich regions oppose the draft constitution and reject government efforts to raise taxes on energy resources. Santa Cruz and other eastern departments are now seeking more political and fiscal autonomy from La Paz.
Morales has accused leaders of the autonomy movement of seeking to break away from the nation and he has vowed to block any efforts to do so. But in a speech this week, the president sounded a softer tone.
Morales called on all groups to join the government's program of changes, saying the nation working together can implement reforms that will benefit allof its people.
Tensions have been rising in recent days, as tin miners and opposition groups launched a series of protests to challenge government reforms. President Morales cancelled a series of rallies this week, because of roadblocks and demonstrations, and officials said two miners died in protests Tuesday.
Miguel Centellas, a political scientist at Mount Saint Mary's University near Washington, says the street battles have become a common scene in Bolivia. "A lot of politics is decided by how much force you can put on the streets, protesting. We are not talking about violence necessarily. But if you can block streets for a few days, disrupt commerce, then the government will negotiate with you."
Opinion polls show both the president and the eight governors facing the recall referendum are likely to retain their seats. Surveys also show public approval of Mr. Morales remains strong.
Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University says Sunday's vote may have little impact on the dispute between the president and the governors. "When you look at that, in a sense what you get is status quo. A strengthening of the extreme positions, the position in Santa Cruz and the position in La Paz."
Gamarra says the continued stalemate creates room for a third party to step in to try to negotiate a political resolution that could allow both sides to claim at least partial victories. But so far, no group has offered to do so.
Gamarra adds that President Morales should maintain the upper hand in the dispute, because he is likely to press ahead with the new constitution, which has strong support in many poor communities. "This referendum is going to give him the fortitude to be able to immediately take on another national referendum on the ratification of his constitutional proposal."
Gamarra says the government is likely to schedule the constitutional vote for next year. He adds that if the draft is presented without changes, it could further the divide between the central government and autonomy supporters in eastern Bolivia.