Direct Democracy, Power and Counter-Power. Analysis of the February 21, 2016 Referendum in Bolivia


  • Yanina Welp Co-Directora, Latin American Center Zurich University of Zurich
  • Alicia Lissidini Profesora Titular - Escuela de Política y Gobierno, Universidad Nacional de San Martín



constitutional amendments, democracy, populism, referendum, state power


The referendum has divided waters between those who defend it as an instrument for empowerment of citizenship and those who reject it as a weapon for the concentration of power in the hands of leaders. Given this dilemma, we sustain that when there exist democratic safeguards for its exercise, the referendum is a powerful mechanism of counter-power. Mandatory referendums and those initiated by the people are most appropriate to fulfil this function, provided that they comply with the rules of the game and that the existence of spaces for the expression of different arguments and deliberation are guarantee. This article analyzes these issues in connection with the popular consultation that took place in Bolivia on February 21, 2016, which resulted in the rejection of the proposal to reform the Constitution to permit a new reelection of president Evo Morales and his vice president Álvaro García Linera.