- Bolivia - Evo Morales - referendum
Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed Thursday to hold a referendum to decide whether he, his vice president and the country's governors should remain in office, amid a power struggle between his government and wealthy provinces.
"It is better for the people to decide the country's destiny," Morales said in a televised address, a few hours after Congress approved a resolution calling for a referendum within 90 days.
Morales, who was still waiting to officially receive the legislation passed by lawmakers, said it was important for the crisis to be resolved "in the ballot box and not with violence."
The move came just days after voters in the country's richest region, Santa Cruz, gave their backing for more autonomy from Morales' left-wing government in a referendum that posed a serious challenge to his two-year administration.
The president dismissed the vote as illegal, but has invited Santa Cruz's opposition governor and those from other departments seeking autonomy -- Tarija, Beni and Pando -- for talks next week in an effort to resolve their differences.
Bolivia now faces a second major referendum, an idea first proposed by Morales in December as a showdown with the rebellious governors to see who has the support of the people.
The terms of Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera formally end in January 2011, but they could be forced out sooner if more than 53.74 percent of voters -- their margin of support in December 2005 elections -- reject them.
The governors of nine regions, including opposition politicians, will be subject to the same test if the referendum goes ahead.
The opposition is banking on winning the vote of confidence, riding on a tide of support shown in Sunday's referendum in Santa Cruz, where 85 percent of voters backed more autonomy from La Paz.
That vote was held in response to a drive by Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, to give more of the country's wealth and land to his fellow Indians, many of whom live in poverty in the western Andes mountains.
Morales' spokesman, Ivan Canelas, questioned on Thursday why the opposition, who hold a majority in the Senate, decided to support the referendum on the mandates when they earlier opposed it.
"Why now? What is the opposition hoping for? To provoke more uncertainty or instability?" he asked.