Ecuadorian lawmakers condemn president’s dissolution of National Assembly, arguing it was not legal

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuadorian lawmakers who were replaced when President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly condemned the move on Thursday, arguing that it was not legal because the country had no urgent crisis.

The conservative president, who has clashed with the left-leaning General Assembly over his pro-business agenda since taking office in 2021, dissolved the chamber on Wednesday just as it tried to oust him in an impeachment trial over allegations of mismanagement.

Lasso first invoked a 2008 constitutional provision that allows the president to dissolve the assembly in times of political crisis, with the condition that new elections be held for both lawmakers and the president.

However, the lawsuit filed on Thursday by the former leader of the General Assembly, Virgilio Saquicela, argues that Lasso’s move is unconstitutional because there was no social upheaval in the country. Instead, Lasso’s detractors argued that the president chose to dissolve the chamber simply 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 move slowly. Lawmakers called on the board to act quickly this time.

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“We demand an urgent decision from the Constitutional Court,” said Virgilio Saquicela in an interview with the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the National Electoral Council is moving forward with setting the date for the elections. Council president Diana Atamaint told Teleamazonas television that the electoral board must make a decision by Wednesday. The planned date is August 20. If necessary, the rematch will take place on October 15.

The constitution allows the president to dissolve the assembly if it exceeds its constitutional mandate or in times of “serious political crisis and internal turmoil.”

Prime Minister Henry Cucalón defended Lasso’s decision at a news conference on Thursday, arguing that the constitution clearly states that the exemption depends on the president’s “judgment, criteria, consideration and reason” and that it does not require the approval of any other body. .

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

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

According to lawyer and election analyst Medardo Oleas, lawmakers want the court to make a decision before the council’s decision, because once the date of the election is set, “no authority can interfere in the conduct of the process.” He added that if the Constitutional Court were to intervene, its members could be “dismissed”.

Those elected would complete the mandate of Lasso and the deputies he dismissed, which will expire in May 2025. Lasso, a former banker, may decide to run for office.

Lawmakers accused Lasso of failing to intervene to terminate a contract between the state-owned oil shipping company and a private tanker. They argued that Lasso knew the contract was full of irregularities and would cost the state millions.

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During Tuesday’s impeachment proceedings, Lasso noted that the contract predated the administration. He also said the state-owned company was losing $6 million a year before he took office and had made $180 million in profits under his watch.

Since the beginning of Lasso’s four-year mandate, he has clashed with the opposition-led National Assembly. On Wednesday, he accused them of focusing on “destabilizing the government.”

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

He rejected shared responsibility for the turmoil in the country, arguing that the assembly had fulfilled its constitutional duty to legislate.

“I don’t want to justify whether the assembly was good or bad, what I am defending is the constitutional framework,” he said. “However, we believe that as a political department we have fallen short in our legislative and oversight responsibilities.”