Ecuador lawmakers denounce president's disbanding of National Assembly, argue it wasn't legal

Opposition lawmakers in Ecuador who lost their jobs when President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly are denouncing their dismissal

Via AP news wire
Thursday 18 May 2023 20:36 BST

Ecuadorian lawmakers who were ousted when President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly denounced the move Thursday and argued it wasn't legal because the country wasn't facing any urgent crisis.

The conservative president, who had sparred with the left-leaning assembly over his pro-business agenda since taking office in 2021, disbanded the chamber Wednesday just as it tried to oust him on mismanagement allegations in an impeachment trial.

Lasso was making first use of a 2008 constitutional provision that allows the president to dissolve the assembly during times of political crisis, with the requirement that new elections be held for both lawmakers and the president.

However, a lawsuit filed Thursday by the assembly’s former head, Virgilio Saquicela, argues that Lasso’s move violated the constitution because the country was not experiencing any social upheaval. Instead, Lasso’s detractors have argued, the president chose to disband the chamber merely to avoid his own ouster.

Saquicela’s lawsuit — and two other challenges filed Wednesday — are before the country’s Constitutional Court, which is known to act slowly. Lawmakers have been urging the panel to act quickly this time.

“We require, we demand an immediate pronouncement from the Constitutional Court,” Virgilio Saquicela said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the National Electoral Council is moving forward with setting a date for elections. Council President Diana Atamaint told the Teleamazonas television network that the electoral body has until Wednesday to decide. The tentative date is Aug. 20. If needed, a runoff would take place Oct. 15.

The constitution allows the president to dissolve the assembly when it oversteps its mandate under the constitution or during times of “serious political crisis and internal commotion.”

Minister of Government Henry Cucalón defended Lasso’s decision during a news conference Thursday, arguing that the constitution makes it clear that the dismissal is up to the president's “judgment, criteria, discretion and reason," and that it does not require approval of any other entity.

The president appears to have the support of the armed forces, but faces pushback from critics including a powerful confederation of indigenous group that previously has nearly paralyzed the country with protests.

Lasso can now govern for up to six months by means of decrees on economic and administrative issues under the oversight of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court. The National Electoral Council is required to set a date for presidential and legislative elections within seven days from Lasso’s decision.

Lawmakers want the court to issue a ruling before the council makes a decision, because after the election date is set “no authority may interfere in the carrying out of the process,” lawyer and electoral analyst Medardo Oleas said. He added that if the Constitutional Court interfered, its members “could be dismissed.”

Those elected would finish the terms of Lasso and the lawmakers he ousted, which had been set to end in May 2025. Lasso, a former banker, can choose to run in the election.

Lawmakers had accused Lasso of not having intervened to end a contract between the state-owned oil transport company and a private tanker company. They argued Lasso knew the contract was full of irregularities and would cost the state millions in losses.

During impeachment proceedings Tuesday, Lasso noted that the contract predated his administration. He also said that the state-owned company experienced losses of $6 million a year before he took office, and that it has seen $180 million in profits under his watch.

Lasso had clashed from the start of his four-year term with the opposition-led National Assembly. He accused them Wednesday of focusing “on destabilizing the government.”

Saquicela, in an interview with AP, accused Lasso’s government of being “incapable of solving the real problems of Ecuadorians” including health, transportation and security issues.

He rejected any shared responsibility for the turmoil affecting the country arguing that the assembly had complied with its constitutional obligation to legislate.

“I do not want to justify whether the assembly has been good or bad, what I defend is the constitutional framework,” he said. “However, we believe that as a political class, we fell short in our legislating and oversight duties.”

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