After weeks of disputes and frustrated sessions, the Congress approved the President’s request for a referendum on whether to rewrite the country’s constitution.
In what analysts consider as a stunning political victory of leftist President Rafael Correa, the Congress of Ecuador approved on Tuesday his request for a referendum on whether to hold a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. The Congress meeting was originally scheduled for Monday but the negative of the opposition lawmakers to pass the bill delayed the session.
Early in the morning hundreds of supporters of President Correa gathered at the gates of the Congress building in Quito as they did two weeks ago when thousands stormed the building, battled police on the streets and forced lawmakers to evacuate the building to demand the referendum be approved.
Later on Tuesday, Ecuador's top election tribunal set April 15 as the date for the referendum, a court official told local radio.
To obtain the approval of the Congress, Correa introduced some amendments to the original proposal, which demanded two weeks of negotiations. Correa's movement has no formal representatives in Congress, but the former economy minister appeals to the public with his vows for a "citizens revolution" in a country where instability has toppled three presidents in a decade.
"This is a victory for the people," Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea told reporters after the decision. Larrea said the government sees no significant changes in Congress-approved reforms to the referendum plan.
Correa has not yet anticipated specific reforms he is willing to introduce in the new constituion. He has only advanced that constitutional reforms are needed to limit the influence of political elites on institutions such as the Supreme Court and the electoral authority. More than three-quarters of Ecuadoreans support Correa's referendum proposal, a survey by local pollster Cedatos Gallup showed in January.
Opposition lawmakers said they fear that granting a Constitutional Assembly broad powers will help consolidate Correa's presidential powers and usher in more instability. "Today the constitution has been broken," said opposition congressman Federico Perez. "I really hope our country doesn't fall in to communism."
The rewrtie of the constitution was the core of Correa’s proposals during the campaign last year. He has also pledged to restructure debt, renegotiate oil contracts with foreign companies operating in Ecuador and end a lease allowing the US military to une an air base.
Correa follows presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and Bolivia, Evo Morales, who have fuelled constitutional assemblies in their respective countries, shortly after taking office.
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