Concerns about the ‘death cross’ grow in the National Assembly as the Constitutional Court appears likely to okay an impeachment trial

Mar 29, 2023 | 5 comments

As the likelihood the Constitutional Court will green-light an impeachment trial against President Guillermo Lasso grows, members of the National Assembly acknowledged Tuesday that they could soon be without a job if Lasso invokes the muerte cruzada, or death cross.

If the death cross is called, the Assembly would be dissolved and new elections would be held within seven or eight months for both its members and the presidency. The president would remain in office until a new Assembly is seated.

Ecuador’s National Assembly in Quito.

Although the Court issued a statement late Tuesday that it has not made a final decision on the Assembly’s impeachment request, preliminary votes indicate six of the nine judges are in favor.

“Yes, it appears that is the direction we are headed,” says Assemblyman Jorge Abedrabbo. “It is the president’s right to call the death cross and I believe he will do it if he believes he will lose the trial. I would be lying if I said Assembly members are not worried about it. The question is, are they worried more about their own well-being or the stability of the country?”

In a Tuesday morning television interview Government Minister Henry Cucalón said the death cross is “on the table” but said it was not imminent. “The president will wait for the Court’s decision and if it allows a trial to proceed, he will assess the situation,” Cucalón said. “He will respect the court’s decision but he will also consider the political chaos that is underway in the country and act in the interests of the country.”

Members of the Correista UNES party that has led charge for impeachment, say they are not afraid of the death cross. “No, I am not worried if he invokes it,” says Viviana Veloz. “I may not be reelected but the Correísta movement will gain Assembly members in a new election. The homeland needs to recover democratic stability and that is why we have requested impeachment. New elections would accomplish the same thing.”

Some supporters of impeachment admit, however, they worry that the death cross would allow Lasso to rule by decree for seven or eight months until new elections are held and a new Assembly takes office. “I think it was a mistake to put it in the constitution because it allows the president to be a dictator until the elections,” says Mario Ruiz, leader of the Pachakutik bloc. “He can rule without opposition, with no checks and balances. This could result in protests in the streets.”

Some supporters of Lasso insist the death cross in not inevitable. “We have a long way to go in this drama even if the Court allows the trial to go forward,” says Juan Fernando Flores of Lasso’s CREO party. “At the moment, I do not believe dissolving the Assembly is part of the president’s plan. First, he has the right to defend himself and there are serious doubts whether a super majority exists to vote him out of office.”

Flores added that a new rift between the Correistas and their conservative allies, the Social Christians, jeopardizes the alliance promoting impeachment. The conflict arose following a tweet by former President Rafael Correa claiming that the Constitutional Court judges opposing impeachment were “following orders from the Social Christians.”

Several political analysts also question the inevitability of the death cross pending the Court’s decision. “There are other options,” says University of Guayaquil government affairs professor Martin Salazar. “Although he says he will never resign, that remains a possibility. Many forget that he is not in good health and it is not unreasonable to think he might decide he does not want to go through the stress of a trial. If he leaves office, his friend and vice president [Alredo Borrero] will complete his term with the guarantee he cannot be impeached. Lasso could conclude that this is better than standing for reelection where he will very likely be replaced by a Correista.”

Agreeing with Flores, Salazar says there is no certainty that impeachment will succeed. “This new fight between the Social Christians and Correa could end the alliance necessary for impeachment.”

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