President pushes referendum to overhaul the judicial system; says corrupt judges are going easy on criminals

Jan 24, 2011

Appealing directly to Ecuador´s citizens, President Rafael Correa is complaining that his call for a national referendum on issues he says are critical to Ecuador´s future is being opposed by political opponents he calls “the old guard.”

Twice in the last week Correa took to the airwaves to push a list of 10 questions that he wants the people to vote on, including one that would overhaul the country´s judicial system. Before a referendum can take place, however, the country's constitutional court must review the questions, which Correa submitted last week.

Calling on voters to "trust in the government, not the politics of the past, Correa told ¨his radio and tv audience that he would resort to referendums "as many times as necessary" to push the reforms that he says the country must make.

 "Already, we are seeing the old alliances opposing the referendum," Correa said. "This is too important for the country and I will not let them defeat this effort."

"We are willing to give our lives, as we have demonstrated. We will trust in the sovereign expression of the people at the polls," he said. The president appeared to refer to a September incident in which police attacked him in response to the belief that he was going to take away their bonuses and reduce their compensation. Correa was roughed up and hit by tear gas

Troops rescued him in a dramatic shootout with officers at a hospital where he was held for more than 10 hours. The proposals announced by Correa that would appear on the referendum would revamp the country's judicial system, which Correa says is corrupt. The president contends that the courts are corrupt and have been too easy on criminals, allowing too many of them back on the streets to commit more crimes.

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Another proposed measure asks for the modification of the makeup of the country's judicial council. "The judicial council has not performed its function because of its commitment to timidity and indecisiveness," Correa said. He said the special commission would have the power to evaluate and sanction judges with the goal of eliminating corruption.

Critics, however, say that the proposed referendum is simply a move by the president to consolidate power over the other branches of government. Correa said that without a restructuring of the judicial system, "the country will not come out ahead, and will not achieve the much-desired public security."

Five of the questions on Correa's list are amendments to the constitution. The other five are more general initiatives that would change existing laws or create new ones.

Other proposals that Correa is floating include prohibiting banks and media companies, and their principal shareholders, from owning stock in companies outside their industry. Among others are calls for gambling to be declared illegal and for public shows where animals are killed to be banned.

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