Constitutional Court ‘guts’ Lasso’s referendum, throwing out questions on crime and the Cpccs

Oct 16, 2022 | 26 comments

Political analysts and some administration officials say the Constitutional Court’s decision Thursday to throw out two of eight referendum questions is a devastating blow to President Guillermo Lasso. The judges ruled that questions that would allow the armed forces to assist police in the fight against organized crime and anther that would have reduced the authority of the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control could not go before voters as they are written.

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court shot down President Guillermo Lasso’s referendum question that would have allowed the armed forces to help fight crime.

“These were the issues that were most important for Lasso and the ones that would given him a stronger hand in his fight with the National Assembly,” says University of Cuenca constitutional expert Gustavo Poveda. “These were the questions with the greatest public support for approval. Without them the referendum seems almost pointless.”

Although the president’s office had no official comment on the decision, two government officials admitted the elimination of the questions was a “serious setback.” The president’s press office said only that the decision was being reviewed.

In its ruling that allowed the other questions to go on the ballot, the court said that engaging the military in police operations and changing the responsibilities of the Cpccs should be handled in the “partial reform” process, requiring agreement between the executive and the National Assembly. “It is not appropriate to be resolved by constitutional amendment,” the court wrote. The judges agreed changes requested by the other six questions could be made by amendment.”

The questions the court allowed to go to voters would: allow the extradition of Ecuadorians suspected of involvement in transnational crime; provide greater autonomy to the Attorney General; reduce the number of National Assembly members from 137 to 100 and require one assembly member for each province with other members elected to represent 250,000 citizens; require that political parties represent at least 1.5% of voters within a jurisdiction; incorporates small water protection systems into the national protected areas system; and makes individuals, communities, and indigenous nationalities potential beneficiaries of compensation for their support of environmental services.

Quito law professor Pablo Encalada agrees with Poveda that the rejection of the two questions is a loss for Lasso. “It essentially guts the government’s intent of strengthening the executive branch and takes away Lasso’s most popular proposals,” he says. “Without these questions on the ballot, the others are in jeopardy, in my opinion.”

Encalada called the question to allow the armed forces to assist police a “publicity stunt,” saying the military should never be used for law enforcement except under emergency conditions. “They are not trained as police personnel and putting them on the street as agents of the law can easily become a slippery slope. It risks making Ecuador another Nicaragua or Venezuela.”

He adds that that question of reducing the size of the Assembly and assigning voting districts would probably benefit the presidency, it would not go into effect until the next national election, two years away.

A vice minister who asked not to be identified, said that Lasso and Government Minister Francisco Jimenez are working on additional questions, including one that would require a run-off election for Assembly members. “As I understand it, they may also consider rewriting the two questions that the court rejected.”

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