Proposed constitutional changes submitted to the court; election rules and freedom of speech are major issues
Ecuador’s ruling party, Alianza Pais, is pushing ahead with proposed constitutional changes that would allow indefinite re-election of President Rafael Correa and other officials. The controversial changes would also lower the eligibility age to hold the presidency and make communication a public service in addition to a right.
Gabriela Rivadeneira, president of the National Assembly, submitted a package of proposed reforms to the country’s Constitutional Court, which has 45 days to decide if the plan must be submitted to a national referendum or if it can be decided by the legislature. Alianza Pais, Correa’s and Rivadeneira’s political party, has more then enough of votes in the assembly to enact the amendments.
Correa said last month that he backs the re-election plan, though he didn’t say if he’ll take advantage of it when his term ends in 2017, as many of his supporters hope. His popularity ratings remain high.
In January he had told a government newspaper that he did not plan to run again. In April, however, he said he would consider seeking another term only if a strong Alianza Pais candidate did not emerge to continue his work.
Correa took office in 2007 and won election again in 2009 after a new constitution was adopted. He was re-elected to another four-year term in 2012. The current constitution allows only one re-election.
The proposed amendments also would lower the legal age for presidential candidates to 30 years from 35. The armed forces would also be allowed to deal with internal security matters.
Beyond the election questions, the proposed change to the description of news and public information is getting the most attention.
Although it is unclear what a new definition of communication means for private newspapers and radio and television stations, media owners worry that it could lead to more government control. “How do you change a public right to a public service?” asks media attorney Santiago Guarderas, who called the potential change a “legal outrage.” Guarderas adds, “This is a conatradiction in terms that is not explained a few sentences.”
Amendment supporters downplay the possibility of government interference in private media. “We want to clarify the fact that communication is not a business commodity to be delivered through radio, television and newspapers,” says Mauro Andino, an assemblyman and member of Alianza Pais. “We’re not talking about freedom of speech but the right to communication which should be a public service,” he says.
Guarderas says the comparison of communications with public service is irrational. “It is not like drinking water and electricity, which need to be controlled by the state,” he said. “We worry that is is an attempt to deprive people of a fundamental right.”
Both sides of the issue agree that a court decision to allow the national assembly to make the constitutional changes could lead to controversy. “If the court decides that the amendments can be considered, they need to go to a public vote and not be decided by a political body,” says Guarderas. “There will be major trouble if the public is not involved in the process.”
Photo caption: National Assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira.