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LATIN AMERICA | 17-05-2023 09:36

Facing impeachment, Ecuador President Lasso dissolves Congress

Ecuadorean leader controversially dissolves Congress by decree after opposition-dominated National Assembly launches second attempt to oust him in less than a year.

Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso, who is weathering impeachment proceedings in congress over alleged corruption, issued a decree Wednesday dissolving the legislature.

The decree released by his office states that Lasso is "dissolving the National Assembly due to a grave political crisis and national commotion."

“I have signed Executive Decree 741, with the objective of dissolving the National Assembly and requesting the electoral council to call elections,” Lasso said in a tweet. “Ecuadoreans: this is the best decision to give a constitutional solution to the political crisis.” 

Lasso made the announcement after 88 lawmakers on May 10 voted to continue the impeachment trial and the opposition kept control of the National Assembly in a midterm internal voting on May 14. Impeachment proceedings against him started on Tuesday. 

The abrupt move by the president means early legislative elections will be held.

On Tuesday, Lasso declared his "total, evident and unquestionable innocence" as an impeachment trial over corruption allegations began in parliament.

The majority left-wing opposition has accused the right-wing president of knowing about alleged corruption in public companies in which his brother-in-law Danilo Carrera and a drug-trafficking-accused businessman have been implicated.

"There is no evidence, nor relevant testimonies. Rather, all there is is information that proves my total, evident and unquestionable innocence," Lasso told the unicameral legislature.

Backers of self-exiled former president Rafael Correa, the conservative Social Christian Party and centre-left parties Pachakutik and Democratic Left claim Lasso is guilty of embezzlement for failing to cancel an oil shipping contract.

Lasso denied the allegations, adding that under his watch, state shipping company FLOPEC last year made a record net profit.

His impeachment trial is also taking place amid a spike in violence related to drug-trafficking in the country and widespread anger over the rising cost of living.

"Ecuadoreans demand that we solve their daily problems and end this irrational confrontation that exhausts the population's patience, increases unrest and weakens our democracy," Lasso wrote on Twitter before heading to parliament.

Hundreds of the president's supporters protested peacefully outside parliament, where there was a notable police presence.

Protesters waved Ecuadorean flags, held up banners demanding democracy and shouted angry chants against the legislators.

"The only thing that interests [the opposition] is the destabilisation" of the country's institutions, Interior Minister Henry Cucalon alleged to reporters.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) in a statement urged parliament to "guarantee justice and respect the rules of due process" in the hearing.

 

'Mutual death'

The historically unprecedented move under Ecuador’s 15-year old constitution triggers a snap presidential and legislative election, which has led it to be colloquially known as “mutual death” since Lasso is also putting his own job on the line. 

While Lasso pulled off a successful Covid-19 vaccinationme program and stabilised fiscal accounts, completing an IMF deal for the first time in more than 20 years, he faced ideological opposition from Correa from the beginning of his administration. His popularity has declined amid a crimewave that has seen Ecuador’s murder rate surge beyond those of Colombia and Mexico.

The elections are only to complete the regular term until mid-2025. Lasso has said he will seek the presidency again.

Before a new National Assembly takes office, Lasso will be allowed “to issue decrees or laws of economic urgency” pending a review by the Constitutional Court, according to article 148 of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution.

Indigenous organisation CONAIE, which led violent protests against his government in 2022, said that it would take to streets again if he were to use his right to dissolve the legislature.

 

– TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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