(CNN) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales said Thursday he supports a congressional decision to hold a referendum on whether he and his administration should remain in power amid a move for autonomy that he opposes.
"Democracy is to be defined at the ballot box, not through violence," Bolivian President Evo Morales says.
"We politicians can't forget that the people decide the destiny of the country, the presidents, the prefects," he said in a televised address from the presidential palace in La Paz.
"Democracy is to be defined at the ballot box, not through violence," he said. "How many times have we said yes to the ballot box, no to the arms?"
The announcement came shortly after the National Congress passed the call for a vote, and a few days after a referendum on autonomy passed in Santa Cruz, the nation's richest of nine departments.
The leftist president rejected the Santa Cruz vote as illegal, and therefore nonbinding, and criticized its supporters as opposed to his plan to share the wealth of their communities with the rest of the country, which is the poorest in Latin America.
"I want the people of Bolivia to know we are a government that respects the people, that respects legality, that respects the National Congress, but we also respect the decisions of conscience," said the leftist president, who was voted into office in 2005 for a six-year term.
"With this small experience of two years, we want to serve better," he said. "But the people will decide, based on what we've done so far."
"I hope that the wisdom of the people, the conscience of the people obliges the Congress to accelerate the changes."