Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ecuador: Correa Wins First Round of Constitution Struggle

I've been closely following the Constitutional struggle in Ecuador the last few weeks. We've seen some high drama (though perhaps tame by Ecuadorian standards), with 57 expelled Congressmen, who had to be removed by force and then their replacements sneaking in before dawn this week. In the end, Correa appears to have won the first round of the battle to funamentally change the Ecuadorian political system - one proven to be weak and insufficient. The country will vote whether they want to change the Constitution on April 15th. Polls show widespread support for Correa and the ballot measure. This article helps explain why.

From the Guardian UK:
The two-month-old government of leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the popular movements that back him have emerged triumphant from their first battle with the oligarchy and traditional political parties that have historically dominated the country. Correa, in his inaugural address in January, called for a "new socialism of the twenty-first century" and declared that Ecuador has to end "the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy and our society".

Correa's presidency is rooted in a militant mass movement that has been mobilizing and challenging the country's ascendant economic and political interests for years. The Ecuadorian political system, referred to as a "partidocracia", is run by factious political parties dominated by oligarchs who pull the strings of Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidency - that is, until Correa's election. Even Michel Camdessus, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, once commented that Ecuador is characterized "by an incestuous relation between bankers, political-financial pressure groups and corrupt government officials".

The central demand of the broad movement that brought Correa to power is for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that breaks up the current dysfunctional state, ends the reign of the "partidocracia", refounds the country as a pluri-national, participatory democracy, reclaims Ecuadorian sovereignty and uses the state to advance social and economic policies that benefit the people, not the oligarchy.

Upon his inauguration, Correa issued a decree calling for a plebiscite for the people to vote on April 15 for the election of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress refused to accept the president's initiative and passed its own law, which said that such an assembly would not have the right to limit the tenure of congressional members, or any other elected officials, until their terms expired with the next elections - a change that would make it difficult for the assembly to reform the country's institutions. Then, with the intent of turning the election of assembly members into a circus, the Congress declared that anyone could put their name on the ballot for the assembly. No signatures or petitions were required, meaning that hundreds or more could simply sign up to run for any given seat, making the balloting virtually impossible to administer.

Correa responded by taking the Congressional legislation, eliminating the onerous clauses, tailoring it to his original decree for a Constituent Assembly to refound the country, and sending it the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which rules on elections and electoral procedures. Hopes were not high, as the Tribunal is historically viewed as part of the "partidocracia". The popular movements began to demonstrate in front of the Tribunal and Congress, calling for their closure, and for Correa to simply issue a decree for the Constituent Assembly.

Rene Baez, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador, says: "To the surprise of virtually everyone the popular repudiation shook the consciousness of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal." Lead by its president, Jorge Acosta, a member of a traditional right wing party, the Tribunal declared that the statute proposed by President Correa to refound the country's institutions would be the one that would be voted up or down on April 15.

Outraged by this decree, 57 of the 100 deputies of Congress voted to depose Acosta from the Tribunal. The next day Acosta and the Tribunal responded by expelling the 57 deputies from Congress for their unconstitutional actions.

The people took to the streets in a jubilant mood. Backed by demonstrators, Correa ordered 1500 policeman to surround the Congress to enforce the decree of the Tribunal, preventing any of the 57 deposed representatives from entering.
Whole Thing



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