Some members of Ecuador’s National Assembly claim that President Guillermo Lasso is making plans to dissolve the Assembly and call for new elections. Under constitutional rules, the president can, with Constitutional Court approval, invoke the so-called “death cross” if he considers the country ungovernable.
“The government is spreading the word that the Assembly is a den of corruption, unable to do its job and I believe this is a set-up to subvert the constitutional process,” says Assemblyman Darwin Pereira of the Pachakutik movement. “First, they say they will go to a national referendum to bypass our authority but if that does not work I understand the president will call the death cross for a new election.”
Pereira’s comments follow the Monday announcement that Pachakutik and the Democratic Left party will oppose Lasso’s budget proposals, changes to labor laws and to the tax code, the heart of the president’s agenda. Although it did not make an announcement, it is expected that the Correista Union of Hope, the Assembly’s largest voting bloc, will also oppose the proposals, making their passage impossible.
Lasso has yet to send major legislation to the Assembly and Interior Minister Alexandra Vela said Tuesday that it could be November or December before final drafts are ready for submission. “Our plan is to work with Assembly in hopes of reaching consensus before moving forward,” she said. “If we cannot reach an agreement, we will consider taking our proposals directly to the voters in a referendum.”
In a speech on Wednesday, Lasso repeated the referendum possibility. “We were elected to serve the people and if our efforts are blocked by the legislature we may have no option but to go directly to the people.”
Both Lasso and Vela deny that dissolving the Assembly has been considered. “Our intention is to work through the legislative process and, if necessary, consult the people. At this point we do not see an emergency that would require other action,” Vela said.
According to political observers, Pereira’s suggestion that the Assembly is being portrayed as rife with corruption is not without basis. “There are six corruption cases against Assembly members currently in process and the Assembly was only elected four months ago,” says Reginald Viteri, former deputy minister of education. “This has been widely reported in the media and it makes no sense to accuse Lasso of a smear campaign when it is the Assembly itself doing the smearing.”
Viteri says many of Lasso’s proposals face a stiff challenge in the Assembly. “He is attempting to push a conservative agenda through a center-left legislature. Although he may have some success in the negotiation process, I doubt he will get most of what he wants,” Viteri says.
On the other hand, Viteri believes Lasso could be successful with a referendum. “His approval rating is very high right now, while the Assembly’s is low. This approach was successful for [former presidents] Correa and Moreno and it could be for Lasso too.”
Viteri cautioned that Lasso’s popularity, over 70 percent in three recent polls, may not last. “His work with the pandemic and the vaccines has been very popular but at some point this advantage will decline. The country is in a severe economic crisis and this will replace Covid as the country’s biggest issue in the coming months.”