The National Assembly will begin debate of 16 proposed constitutional amendments later this month, including one that would allow President Rafael Correa to seek another term.
Some of the amendments are already part of the “national dialogue” being conducted in meetings around the country by legislators and government officials. Assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira met Friday in Quito with labor officials to hear their concerns about an amendment they say weakens workers’ rights.
There was no indication if the amendment to allow indefinite reelection of public officials would be part of the dialogue.
Opponents of indefinite reelection say they are prepared to take to the streets if the Assembly doesn’t submit the amendment to a national referendum. Although two groups have asked the National Electoral Council (CNE) for the forms to collect voter signatures to petition for a referendum, the requests have so far been denied. The CNE says it needs guidance from the Ecuador’s Constitutional Court on the issue.
The constitution allows the Assembly to approve amendments by a two-thirds majority vote if there is not a successful petition for referendum. The ruling Alianza Pais party has more than enough votes for passage.
Amendment opponents have a strong argument for a referendum: three national polls show that between 69% and 80% of voting age Ecuadorians want to vote on the question.
Opposition assemblywoman and former presidential candidate Cynthia Viteri says it would be a “hijack of democracy” not to let Ecuador voters decide the issue, and that Correa and Alianza Pais party members are afraid the amendment would be defeated at the polls. “If the people are not allowed to vote on this, there will be an uprising,” she said. “The streets outside the Assembly will be filled with angry voters.”
Discussion of the amendment comes at a bad time for the government, according to Carlos Fernandez, an adviser to former president Alfredo Palacio. “They’re still dealing with the reaction to the inheritance and capital gains tax proposals,” he says. “They admit they miscalculated in that case and they don’t want to make another mistake. Given the poll numbers for a referendum, Correa probably wishes he could put this off too, but he’s faced with a December deadline.”
Fernandez says that the opposition is also guilty of miscalculation. “They thought they could run Correa out of town over the tax issue, like they did (President Lucio) Gutierrez, but they underestimated his popularity and that’s why the protests have lost momentum,” he says, adding, “Personally, I think Correa would win if the amendment is put to a vote.”