Lasso announces he will not seek reelection, says his decision is for the good of the country

May 19, 2023 | 53 comments

By Arturo Torres and Samantha Schmidt
A day after he dissolved the National Assembly, averting his looming impeachment but triggering new elections this year, Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso said he has no plans to run in them — and doesn’t care who replaces him.

President Guillermo Lasso

“My goal is not to prevent someone from returning to Ecuador,” he told The Washington Post in an interview Thursday evening. He was referring to the party of his leftist rival Rafael Correa, the country’s longest-serving democratically elected president and still an influential leader here.

Instead, he told The Post, he plans to use his last months as one of Latin America’s few remaining center-right presidents to advance executive orders focused on security, health, education and infrastructure. Among them: a decree, to be announced as soon as next week, that would boost protections for security forces who use their weapons to defend themselves and others.

The 67-year-old former banker steered this South American nation of 18 million into new territory this week with his declaration Wednesday of a muerte cruzada — or “cross death.” The constitutional measure, which he invoked days before the legislature was to vote on his removal on embezzlement charges, allows him to send lawmakers home and rule by decree for up to six months. Then new elections must be held.

Lasso rejects the charges against him as politically motivated; supporters call them bogus. He’s the first Ecuadorian president to invoke muerte cruzada, which effectively cuts his four-year term in half. It was added to the constitution when Correa was president.

The move was seen by some as a last-minute effort to avoid impeachment, a calculation that the votes were stacked against him in the political trial. But Lasso told The Post he had decided on the muerte cruzada days earlier, and followed through after making sure he had the support of the military.

Intelligence authorities said the president had received information that the opposition lacked the votes needed to impeach him. But Lasso, fed up with an opposition-led assembly that has succeeded in blocking most of his agenda, decided to dissolve it anyway. He applied the measure, he wrote in his declaration, to address the “grave political crisis” in an assembly whose members were unable to perform their functions properly.

“What was fundamental was to provide an exit to this political crisis,” Lasso told The Post. He described the move as an “act of generosity for the country, to shorten a presidential term to achieve the common interest of Ecuadorans … and not see this embarrassing spectacle of fighting between politicians.”

Ecuador’s constitutional court upheld Lasso’s declaration Thursday, rejecting six lawsuits aimed at blocking it. The electoral court said it would hold early legislative and presidential elections as soon as Aug. 20, with a potential runoff presidential election in October. Lasso said his party plans to nominate a candidate.

Speaking in a wood-paneled room of the presidential palace after the most chaotic day in Ecuadoran politics in years, the president appeared notably at ease and upbeat in a jacket, sweater and jeans. He sought to minimize concerns that the months ahead could bring mass protests, or that his leftist opponents could win the elections and punish him.

He had said before his impeachment trial opened Tuesday that he would declare a muerte cruzada if he believed lawmakers had the votes to remove him. Leaders of Ecuador’s powerful Indigenous movement, credited with playing a key role in ousting three previous presidents, said they would respond to the move by staging street demonstrations. But by Thursday evening, there had been no substantial protests. And Correa, who called Lasso’s move unconstitutional on Wednesday, appeared to be trying to capitalize on it Thursday.

“You know what? Despite his lies and contradictions, Lasso is right: we are experiencing internal commotion,” the former president tweeted Thursday. “Let’s go to those elections and sweep them at the polls.”

Simón Pachano, a political scientist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador, argued Lasso made the decision primarily to avoid his impeachment. He pushed back on the president’s claims that he simply isn’t interested in running for office again.

“It seems to me that he has no chance of winning,” Pachano said, and Lasso knows it. “I think he’s a sort of skilled poker player. He never shows emotions.”

Elected in 2021, Lasso was to have served through 2025, when he would have been eligible to run for one more four-year term.

He said he received support on Wednesday from several foreign allies, including the United States. After his declaration, U.S. Ambassador Michael J. Fitzpatrick said the United States “respects Ecuador’s internal and constitutional processes” and “will continue working with the constitutional government, civil society, the private sector and the Ecuadorian people.”
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Credit: The Washington Post

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