Lasso finally announces public referendum questions but gets a lukewarm response
President Guillermo Lasso announced Monday the long-awaited questions he will submit to voters early next year in a public referendum. As expected, three of the eight questions focus on fighting organized crime while three others aim to streamline the legislative process and protect government agencies against political influence.
The reaction of politicians and government analysts was mostly muted, with one editorialist calling the questions “mostly a tub of warm water.”
Accompanied by his cabinet ministers in Parque Carapungo park, north of Quito, Lasso said the referendum is not “a political statement” but a means to allow voters to decide the direction of the country.
“With this consultation we all win. The families of the victims who await justice win and the neighborhoods that want to live in peace and security win,” Lasso said. “It allows our public law enforcement agencies to be supported and, in turn, to support the freedom of small entrepreneurs to reactivate their businesses with confidence. It also allows Ecuadorians to be better represented in legislative and government functions.”
Two questions involve environmental issues, one promoting greater protection of water sources and another providing funding to communities for environmental programs.
Lasso said the wording of the eight questions may change following a review by the Constitutional Court, which has 20 days to approve or suggest changes to the questions. “Based on the court’s response, it is possible that one or two additional questions will be added to the consultation,” Lasso said.
The question Lasso submitted to the court on Monday are:
- Do you agree with allowing additional support of the Armed Forces in functions supporting the National Police to combat organized crime?
- Do you agree with allowing the extradition of Ecuadorians who have committed crimes related to transnational organized crime, through processes that respect their rights and guarantees?
- Do you agree with guaranteeing the autonomy of the State Attorney General’s Office, so that it selects, evaluates, promotes, trains and equips the officers that comprise it through a Fiscal Council?
- Do you agree with reducing the number of assembly members and electing them according to the following criteria: 1 assembly member per province and 1 additional provincial assembly member for every 250,000 inhabitants; 2 national assembly members for every million inhabitants; and 1 assembly member for every 500,000 inhabitants residing abroad?
- Do you agree with requiring political parties to have a minimum number of members of at least 1.5% of registered voters in their jurisdiction and requiring them to keep a membership registry to be periodically audited by the National Electoral Council?
- Do you agree with eliminating the political motivation to appoint authorities that the Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social [Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control] has and implementing processes that guarantee meritocracy, public scrutiny, collaboration and control of different institutions, so that it is the National Assembly that appoints through these processes the authorities currently elected by the CPCCS and its advisors?
- Do you agree with the incorporation of a water protection subsystem to the National System of Protected Areas?
- Do you agree that individuals, communities, towns and nationalities can be beneficiaries of compensation duly regularized by the State, for their support to the generation of environmental services?
Although supporters of the president voiced agreement with questions, others said they indicated a “timidness and lack of vision” and will do little to address the government’s key problems. Lasso’s opponents in the National Assembly claim the questions will be a referendum on his presidency.
Political analyst and former government minister Pedro Donoso found the questions puzzling. “There will most likely be approval on the questions regarding law enforcement but I don’t see voters having much enthusiasm for the five others, partly because they are vague, partly because they don’t address the crises the country faces,” he said. “It makes sense to reduce the size of the Assembly from 137 to 100 and to provide more autonomy to agencies, but these are not burning issues with most people. Another problem, assuming most of the questions pass, is that voters will expect quick results, especially regarding crime and prosecution of criminals.”
Former National Assembly president Alberto Acosta says rejection by voters will be disastrous for Lasso. “If he loses on several of questions, how will he keep his government afloat?” he asks. “The political situation will be even worse than it is now and the country will be ungovernable.”
Acosta adds: “What most voters want is a chance to give their opinion on both Lasso and the National Assembly. If there was a question for calling new elections, I believe it would pass overwhelmingly. People would vote to throw out all the scoundrels.”
Lasso said the referendum will go to voters either before the sectional elections in February 2023 or at the same time, depending on advice from the court and the National Electoral Council.