The coalition pushing a national referendum on proposed constitutional changes appears to gain momentum

Sep 13, 2014

By Ana Belén Cordero

The package of constitutional amendments presented by Ecuador’s ruling PAIS Alliance party to the country’s Constitutional Court has sparked a wave of amicus curiae appeals. The Court has so far received 10 third-party appeals to the 17 proposed amendments to the 2008 Constitution.

The Constitutional Court is responsible for deciding if the amendments can be approved by the National Assembly — where PAIS, the party of President Rafael Correa, currently holds a majority — or if they will be put to a vote in a national referendum, as the opposition has requested.Leader of the chl referrendumCreating Opportunities (CREO) party and former presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso presented the latest such appeal on September 3. Lasso submitted a report written by Carlos Bernal Pulido, a Colombian constitutional scholar who has been quoted over 100 times in Constitutional Court decisions.

For Lasso and Bernal Pulido, the amendments are a “substitution for the Constitution,” and alter many of its founding principles. They argue that such drastic changes to the constitution require a Constituent Assembly be called.

“When an eight-year presidential term limit is imposed, this is not just any number. It is not a trivial number; it is a structural aspect of the state,” said Lasso at the time the motion was submitted.

“This doctrine, presented by the attorney Bernal Pulido, was what led the Colombian Constitutional Court to prevent former President Álvaro Uribe from being reelected for a second term,” says Ecuadorian political scientist Ana Belén Cordero.

Cordero explains that the amicus curiae submitted by Lasso focuses on one of the 17 amendments proposed by the Correa administration: indefinite reelection. “They argue that the current proposal will give rise to hyper-presidentialism, limit separation of powers, and restrict the rights of minorities to participate, among others.”

Guillermo Lasso also reiterated his call for a referendum should the Constitutional Court decide to allow the approval of the indefinite reelection amendment in the National Assembly.

Fundamental Changes
According to a statement by the PAIS Alliance, the most significant reform in the package of 17 amendments is the one that calls for the “elimination of the phrase ‘only once, consecutive or not’ from Article 114, to allow indefinite reelection of all elected officials, as well as deleting the phrase ‘only once’ from Article 144, which refers to terms limits for presidents of the Republic.”

The amendment package also proposes expanding the functions of the Armed Forces by adding a second paragraph to Article 158. The amendment would require the military to “support the integral security of the state,” although it does not specify under what conditions.

Municipal independence would also be reduced through the amendment of paragraph 7 of Article 264, which establishes that the management of physical infrastructure, as well as health and education facilities, would require the consent of the governing body of public policy.

President of the National Assembly, Gabriela Rivadeneira, who delivered the amendment package, acknowledged to the media that assembly members rushed delivery of the proposal, because they wanted to see changes before the 2017 elections.

The Organic Elections Law of Ecuador says that any change to electoral law will take effect one year after approval. Assembly members insist that the amendments must become operational by 2016 for current president, Rafael Correa, to run for reelection.

On August 30, Correa said the government is making an attempt to correct various parts of the Constitution that they believe should be improved. “We are conducting a comprehensive review, with democratic legitimacy, with the overwhelming support given to us by the Ecuadorian people and the 100 representatives who will fulfill their historic duty in the National Assembly, [and] without fear of what will be said, to make a few more amendments to the Constitution,” said the president, who dismissed the idea of a referendum as an appropriate course of action.

Correa noted that among other changes not included in the amendment package are Articles 57, 322 and 402, which prevent indigenous peoples from patenting and receiving benefits from ideas that originated from their ancestral knowledge.

Correa and PAIS have reason to oppose a national vote on the amendment question. Although voters from the political right and left will vote for their own candidates in a general election, they will vote together to oppose term limits. According to analysts, a public vote on the amendment could easily lead to its defeat.

Politicians Asked to Weigh In
Amicus curiae motions, both in favor and opposed to the proposed constitutional amendments, have emerged over the past few months. El Telégrafo reports that one of the first motions introduced was from Secretary of the Presidency, Alexis Mera, who supports the legislative solution.

Political organizations Coalition, Popular Democratic Movement (MPD), and CREO support a referendum, and have acted in opposition to the indefinite reelection amendment and the centralization of municipal powers.

El Telégrafo reports that union groups have also expressed objections to the collective bargaining and job stability provisions.

Credit: Ana Belén Cordero, Master of Political Management at George Washington University, contributed to this article.

Photo caption: Former presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso has filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court to prevent indefinite presidential reelections in Ecuador.

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