Reposted with permission from The Pan-American Post
Ecuador’s fractured opposition is struggling to challenge the constitutional reforms proposed by President Rafael Correa’s Alianza País political movement, but have seen electoral authorities shoot down two bids to hold a referendum in the past week alone.
Yesterday, opposition figure and 2013 presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso announced that the National Electoral Council (CNE) had rejected his party’s request to begin gathering signatures for a popular vote on the reforms, which among other things would end term limits for all elected officials. As El Comercio reports, the decision came just days after the CNE denied a separate, similar request submitted by the party of ex-President Lucio Gutiérrez.
According to El Universo, in both cases the CNE found that the language of the proposed petition questions had to be approved by the Constitutional Court before the parties could begin gathering the 585,323 signatures needed to trigger a referendum. But as columnist Jorge Alvear Macias notes, the logic behind the ruling has been heavily questioned.
In the case of the Yasunidos campaign — the most recent example of a high-profile attempt to organize a referendum — the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that seems to directly contradict the CNE’s decision, finding that electoral officials had to first endorse the validity of the campaign’s signatures before the court could assess the language of the questions.
Officials in the CNE have said that the difference in this case is the fact that the current referendum initiative involves constitutional reforms, which require the Constitutional Court’s approval to move forward.
Nevertheless, the unclear procedures and the apparent judicial obstacles ahead of the opposition’s attempts to organize a referendum are sure to draw comparisons to the officials’ rejection of the Yasunidos signature drive, which raised questions about the independence of state institutions.
If the opposition manages to overcome the odds — which are compounded by its own divisions, as the existence of various referendum petition requests shows — and force a popular vote on the reforms, the resulting showdown could gain popular support and deal a significant blow to President Correa. Though the president remains largely popular, there is a great deal of support for submitting the reforms to a vote. According to a Cedatos poll released in October, 73 percent of the country is in favor of voting on a proposal to allow indefinite reelection.
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