Lasso prepares a ‘populist’ referendum with focus on the prison crisis, crime and unemployment

Apr 11, 2022 | 11 comments

President Guillermo Lasso said Saturday that he is preparing questions to appear on a popular referendum later this year. “We haven’t made a final decision on all the issues to be included but we know that prison security, the elimination of Cpccs [Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control] and employment will be among them.”

President Guillermo Lasso

Lasso said he expects to submit the questions to the Constitutional Court for approval within three weeks. “Because of the crises we face, there is an urgency for putting these matters before the voters as soon as possible,” he said, adding that a vote could come as soon as September or October.

Political analysts say the referendum is Lasso’s means of bypassing the National Assembly, which has blocked his proposals to change labor laws, attract business investment and to raise taxes. “Because of opposition in the National Assembly, the country has become ungovernable in recent weeks and it is hard to imagine the situation improving. It’s also hard to imagine any of the president’s proposals being approved in the Assembly,” says Miguel Castro, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco-Quito.

“Because he will choose and write the questions, the president will have the strong upper hand in a popular vote,” Castro says. “He will focus on violence in the prisons and the public’s fear of rising crime but his real motive is to enact his agenda that has been blocked in the Assembly. This will be a bitter fight, since the opposition, particularly the Correistas, understands clearly what he is doing but I think Lasso’s populist message will carry the day.”

Former deputy interior minister Alfredo Espinosa agrees. “The question of instability, in and out of prisons, will pass by big margins and will influence voters on Lasso’s other issues. The situation with prisons and crime in general are really red herrings since the mechanism already exists in current law to deal with it, but the president is playing to the crowd.”

Like Castro, Espinosa believes opposition to the referendum questions will be intense but will fail. “Getting rid of the Cpccs will severely limit the Correistas in gaining control of the government and, of course, they will be furious that Lasso is ignoring their votes in the Assembly. The problem for the opposition in the National Assembly, however, is that they are even more unpopular than the president.”

Espinosa cites a recent composite of political polls compiled by the University of San Francisco. “The president’s favorability rating is only 42 percent, which is not good. On the other hand, the Assembly’s is only 12 percent.”

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