Ecuadorians go to the polls on Sept. 30th to decide who will draft and approve their new national constitution. Voters approved the creation of a Constitutional assembly in April this year after a sharply contested constitutional battle that pitted the executive and legislative branches against each other.
Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa staked his presidential campaign on the referendum issue and has vowed to bring Ecuador into the coalition of Latin America’s 21st century socialist states. Correa, like his counterpart in Venezuela, bet that Ecuadorians were tired of the continued political instability and would support his populist calls for reform. He was rewarded with a broad public mandate after the presidential elections and again when over 80 percent of the public supported his call to rewrite the constitution.
A popular president bent on deep institutional reforms would seem like exactly the right medicine for Ecuador at this point in its history. Given the extended instability, almost anyone that returns some measure of confidence to the nation’s political system would likely do more good than bad. Why is it then that almost none of the international or national press corps seems to be enthusiastic about the changes Correa is trying to bring?
One reason could be that many don’t believe Correa has Ecuador’s best interests at heart. While strong on anti-corruption rhetoric, his former finance minister Patiño was caught on videotape discussing how to manipulate markets by threatening a debt default. When he was removed from office by an opposition Congress, the president reappointed him to another ministry. Also the new president has spent needless political capital on minor issues whose net affect has made him appear more authoritarian than democratic. Since coming to power he has repeatedly insulted the national press, at one point calling them animals, and had the editor of a major national daily escorted out of a private interview for questioning his judgment. Most recently he threatened to cancel the broadcast license of Teleamazonas, one of Ecuador’s most popular stations and critical of Correa, on charges of supporting insurrection. The move has only reinforced the impression that Correa is a trying to stifle the political opposition and threaten those who would speak out against him.
As far as the assembly vote, information regarding exactly what will happen is difficult to come by abroad. The only copy of the specific legal process adopted by April’s referendum that I could find was in Spanish, on a blog that I can no longer find and source, so in an attempt to disseminate this information better I am including an edited translation below.
1. The national Assembly is to be held on September 30, 2007 to decide who will make up the constituent assembly that will have the power to write and adopt a new constitution and change the institutional framework of the country. The text will be approved by a referendum (50% +1)
2. The Assembly will have 180 days with the potential for 60 more to publish the text and changes suggested by the constitutional assembly.
3. The assembly will have 130 members divided as follows: 100 posts divided on current legislative divisions among the provinces; 24 national posts; and 6 posts elected by Ecuadorian citizens located abroad (2 from EU, 2 from US, 2 From Latin America).
4. Only those citizens living inside Ecuador are eligible to vote in both Provincial and National Elections. All others are restricted to their respective voting categories.
5. To be elected it is necessary to be over 20 years old; Candidates for Provincial posts must be native residents or have maintained uninterrupted residency in the province for the past three years. Gender parity as stipulated in current constitution.
6. Equal, public campaign financing will be provided through governmental funds. Any private campaigning will result in the candidate’s expulsion.
7. All eligible candidates must obtain the signature of 1 percent of the populace for the district in which they are running.
8. The top three vote-winners will be elected President, Vice-President, and Secretary, respectively, for the first term of the Assembly.
9. The assembly will meet no later than 10 days after the elections and have a period of no longer than 240 days to adopt their resolutions.
10. These resolutions will be put to a popular referendum no more than 45 days after their adoption. 50 percent plus one is necessary to adopt resolutions and is also the functional quorum within the assembly.
This assembly will have full powers to reorganize all political institutions, including closing the national congress, a hot bed of dissent and opposition to the president’s plans. Interestingly, the power to dismiss congress was inserted into the assembly’s mandate after the referendum vote was taken. Actions like this reinforce the cynical interpretation of Correa’s moves that he called the assembly because he had no support in Congress and needed a method for bypassing the Constitutional limits placed on a President with no legislative support.