Bolivia's highest court has cleared the way for President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019 despite voters' rejection of such a move in a referendum last year.
The constitutional court ruled that the right to run for office supersedes limits on re-election imposed by Bolivia's Constitution, citing the American Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right of citizens to be elected through the ballot box, court president Macario Lahor Cortez said at a press conference.
Members of Morales' party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), and pro-government unions applauded the ruling, but the opposition branded it unconstitutional.
It's "a sad day for democracy," said former Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas.
"The Constitutional Tribunal of the regime has just dealt a blow to the constitution and the people," Samuel Doria Medina, head of the opposition National Unity party, said on his Twitter account.
Morales, who is Bolivia's first indigenous president, was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009 and 2014. Bolivia's Constitution allows only two consecutive terms in office. While his next election bid would be for a fourth term, the constitutional court earlier ruled that his first term didn't count because Morales didn't complete the full five-year term before a new constitution took effect in 2009.
Morales narrowly lost a referendum last February on whether the Constitution should be revised to allow him to run yet again in 2019. Despite the loss, the ruling Movement Toward Socialism pressed for ways to allow Morales run again and appealed to the high court in September that the Constitution limited his political rights. On Tuesday, the court said Morales could run again because the human rights convention overrides the Constitution.
"I doubt very much that the convention validates this decision," former president Jorge Quiroga said.
Morales presided over an unprecedented economic boom for Bolivia as prices for raw materials skyrocketed just as he began his first term. He built airports and highways and put a Chinese-built satellite into space. Millions were lifted out of poverty thanks to booming natural gas revenues and economic growth is predicted to be 4.8 percent next year, a strong figure especially in Latin America.
But Morales' popularity has fallen amid allegations of corruption and manipulation of the justice system. An October poll by the company IPSOS said that 68 percent of Bolivians surveyed opposed his re-election in 2019.