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Latin leftists reshape democracy

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In Bolivia, Sunday's referendum is the clearest sign of how irreconcilable differences are since Morales has sought a new Constitution, which was approved by a Constituent Assembly in December but has led to clashes and riots and still needs to be accepted in a national referendum.

Bolivia's growing rift

Morales's opposition, led by a group of governors in the eastern provinces, has balked at many of the constitutional measures, including strengthening the role for the president and increased state-control in the economy.

In dissent, four provinces have held nonbinding referendums since May calling for more local autonomy.

Morales, observers say, is hoping that a win on Sunday will embolden his mandate.

But it's likely to lead to more of an impasse, says Roberto Laserna, a political scientist in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

At least some of the governors, including the head of Santa Cruz, which was the first province to vote on autonomy, are expected to win.

"I think that the referendum is a sign of how democracy has weakened in Bolivia, and the event will further weaken democracy because it is moving the political forces away from dialogue and compromise, and toward radicalization," says Mr. Laserna. "A referendum is a black-or-white situation, where everyone is expected to take sides. It wipes away the gray, where compromise is possible."

For those who have the opportunity to vote, however, the referendum can embolden their sense of belonging.

In Venezuela, which has held four since President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999 and is generally considered at the head of today's referendums politics, Fernando Sangronis, a security guard who supports Mr. Chávez, says Venezuelans have the right to express their opinions directly. "There is no greater democracy than to give people the authority of decision-making," he says.

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