Bolivians prepare for vote to rewrite constitution

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) – Bolivians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a national assembly to rewrite the constitution, a project President Evo Morales says will give more power to the country’s poor indigenous majority.

Constitutional reform was a major election promise of leftist Morales, who took office as the South American country’s first indigenous president in January vowing to end 500 years of domination by a white elite.

Sunday’s vote — which includes a referendum on greater regional autonomy — is his first electoral test and polls suggest his party will win a big majority in the constitutional assembly.

Campaigning on behalf of assembly delegates from his party, Morales, who nationalised the energy industry in May, has pushed the nationalisation of all natural resources in the gas- and mineral-rich country, without saying exactly how.

He is also campaigning for a “no” vote on the regional autonomy referendum, which analysts say could put him on a collision course with the powerful pro-autonomy lobby of wealthy Santa Cruz province, an opposition stronghold.

“We’re not going to fight our brothers, but it’s now or never for autonomy,” pro-autonomy leader German Antelo told flag-waving Santa Cruz residents during a rally to back a “yes” vote. Local media said 200,000 people attended.

Opposition parties have sought to exploit fears about the influence of Morales’ ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Television ads for the rightist Podemos party, led by former President Jorge ‘Tuto’ Quiroga, show images of Chavez in military uniform with the words: “Why is Chavez so interested in our constitution? … Say ‘No’ to Chavez.”

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