Bolivian court clears way for Morales to run for fourth term

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia’s highest court struck down limits on re-election in the country’s constitution and election laws on Tuesday, paving the way for socialist President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019.

FILE PHOTO: Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the the venue where the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) Summit will be held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, November 20, 2017. REUTERS/David Mercado

In September, Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party asked the South American country’s highest court to rescind legal limits barring elected authorities from seeking re-election indefinitely, arguing that these violate human rights.

“All people that were limited by the law and the constitution are hereby able to run for office, because it is up to the Bolivian people to decide,” Macario Lahor Cortez, head of the Plurinational Constitutional Court, wrote in the ruling.

In the decision, the court cited the American Convention on Human Rights, a multilateral treaty signed by many countries in the Americas.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, which is responsible for enforcing the treaty, said the clause cited in the decision “does not mean the right to perpetual power.”

“Besides, presidential re-election was rejected by popular will in a referendum in 2016,” Luis Almagro wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

Morales, who took power in 2006, had previously accepted the results of a 2016 referendum, when 51 percent of Bolivian voters rejected his proposal to reform the constitution to end existing term limits.

He later reversed course and said that while he would happily give up office, his supporters were pushing for him to stay.

The landlocked Andean country has enjoyed relative prosperity and calm under Morales, the country’s first indigenous president.

But his efforts to extend term limits have set off protests across the country, with opponents arguing Morales was trying to tighten his grip on power in the vein of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist ally.

Opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina said on Twitter that the court decision was “a blow to the constitution”.

Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Monica Machicao; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien