Bolivia's Morales gains power to name interim judges
LA PAZ |
LA PAZ Feb 13 (Reuters) - Bolivia's Congress has given leftist President Evo Morales the go-ahead to make top judicial appointments in legislation that his opponents say gives him too much power.
Opposition lawmakers said the law passed late on Friday deals a blow to checks and balances in the poor Andean country by granting Morales authority to appoint interim supreme and constitutional court judges.
The first indigenous president of the natural-gas rich nation already controls the legislature after his landslide re-election in December.
The law stipulates that any interim appointments by Morales in the judiciary will only last until December when permanent supreme and constitutional court judges will be elected in a nationwide vote.
Right-wing Senator Maria Elva Pinckert held up placards that said "Democracy died today" and "Democracy, rest in peace" during Friday's session of Congress, local media reported.
Ruling party lawmakers argue that the law is necessary to deal with thousands of cases pending in the courts and reduce chronic delays in the administration of justice.
Several court posts remain empty because Morales was not previously able to secure the two-thirds majority in Congress needed to appoint replacements for judges who had resigned.
"Hopefully, next week good lawyers will be chosen who will provide a good service to society," ruling party Senator Fidel Surco was quoted as saying by state news agency ABI.
Morales took office for a second term in January. He was re-elected with over 64 percent of the vote in December in an election in which his Movement Toward Socialism party won a majority in both chambers of Congress.
He is wildly popular among Bolivia's majority indigenous population, but the middle classes fear he may want to install a one-party regime. Morales is a strong ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez and an admirer of revolutionary Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
A new constitution approved by over 60 percent of voters in 2009 allowed Morales to run for a second term and called for members of the high courts to be elected in a popular vote. (Reporting by Eduardo Garcia, editing by Simon Gardner)
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