LA PAZ, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Bolivian voters will directly elect the country’s 28 national judges for the first time on Sunday in a vote that could prove decisive for President Evo Morales’ political future.
The judicial election is the latest in a series of reforms aimed at giving more political power to the country’s poor indigenous majority. Morales, the first president of Indian descent, was elected on pledges to reverse five centuries of domination by a European-descended elite.
Here are some questions and answers about the election.
The direct election of judges is one of the reforms included in the new constitution that Morales’ and his allies pushed through in 2009. Morales was elected on pledges to “refound” Bolivia by enacting a sweeping reform of the country’s legislative and judicial system — long seen by critics as favoring the interests of a wealthy, white elite.
Until now, judges at the country’s four high courts have been chosen by Congress.
Morales has been shaken by weeks of protests against his government’s plans to build a $420 million highway through the Amazon and Sunday’s election is being seen as a referendum on his presidency.
The president’s political foes have sought to undermine the unprecedented election by urging voters to spoil their ballots. That means a high voter turnout and few blank votes will be crucial for Morales as he tries to regain his political footing after the anti-road protests, which were led by indigenous activists.
Bolivia’s 5.2 million registered voters will elect the 28 members of the Andean country’s four courts with nationwide jurisdiction. They will choose nine Supreme Court judges, seven members of the Constitutional Court, seven members of a national court that handles agricultural and environmental cases as well as five judges on the Council of the Magistracy. Alternate judges will also be elected on Sunday.
Once they take office in 2012, they will be responsible for selecting judges to sit on provincial courts.
Voting is compulsory in Bolivia and election turnout has never fallen below 60 percent.
In total, there are 116 candidates who were pre-selected by Congress from a pool of 600 applicants. The law requires that candidates have no political affiliation, do not have any links to dictatorships and have not been involved in human rights violations. They also include equal participation of men and women and of indigenous people on the lists of candidates. The same criteria were applied in Bolivia’s 2009 legislative election.
Traditional election campaigning has been banned though local media have been allowed to interview candidates as long as they allot the same amount of air time to each candidate.
The vote count will be done manually at each polling station. The first official results are expected to be announced several hours after the polls close at 2000 GMT on Sunday.
Reporting by Carlos Alberto Quiroga; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman