February referendum will include questions on crime and law enforcement; Critics call the timing ‘demagoguery’ and an attack on National Assembly
Government Minister Francisco Jimenez announced Tuesday that crime prevention and public safety will be among the 10 issues Ecuadorians will vote on in a February referendum. “Crime and law enforcement are what the people care about the most and we will give them the opportunity to make decisions to address the problem,” he said. “We are also considering matters concerning the structure of the National Assembly and the role of the Council for Citizen Participation.”
Jimenez met Tuesday with President Guillermo Lasso and other officials to discuss items to be included on the referendum. “We will be evaluating what we will send to voters in the coming weeks and announce them when the process is concluded.”
He said he and the president hope the referendum questions will be included on the February mid-term election ballot, where mayors and provincial prefects will be chosen. “We believe combining the consultation with the regular election makes sense from a practical and logistical standpoint,” he said.
In comments to the press, Jimenez said the referendum is not intended to “reverse or counter-balance” the authority of the National Assembly, although he acknowledged that some ballot questions might concern recent Assembly decisions. “Yes, the government is in conflict with the Assembly on a number of critical points but the referendum is not meant to reduce its authority,” he said. “Regarding the issue of crime and safety, this is of overwhelming concern to the citizens and they have the right to be heard. It is possible that some legislation concerning law enforcement could change based on consultation votes.”
Jimenez’s reference was to the Assembly’s recent override of a presidential veto in which Assembly members refused to authorize greater use of force by police.
Critics called the timing of the referendum “demagoguery” while supporters say it optimizes election expenditures. “Given the disgust with government, most of the consultation questions will be approved by voters but combining it with the local elections means the issues will not get a fair hearing,” says former national court judge Mauro Andino. “This is an act of expediency and populism at its worst.”
Former prosecutor Juan Cervantes, disagrees, and says it would be “wasteful and extravagant” to hold a separate referendum election. “An election costs millions of dollars and given the current budgetary crisis it would be foolish not to combine them.”
Cervantes conceded that the referendum gives Lasso and his government a “power check” against the National Assembly. “He has been backed into a corner by the Correista bloc and he sees a public vote as a way to regain some control,” he says. “It’s smart of him to focus on crime and law enforcement since this is where he has the most public support. People blame the Assembly for not letting police do their job. There is also strong public support for allowing the government to use stronger measures against indigenous protesters, especially when they involve blocking highways.”
Andino agrees voters will grant law enforcement greater authority. “Yes, this is an easy one given all the fear about crime. With public support for the Assembly at only 8%, anything they have enacted is in jeopardy.”
Once the government decides on the questions to be included in a referendum, they must be reviewed and approved by the Constitutional Court.