Ecuador faces political deadlock as lawmakers challenge President Correa

The Congress is paralyzed as legislators refuse to accept an electoral court decision to fire 57 of them.

The decision of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa to settle a Constituent Assembly with or without Congress approval has led to an open war with the opposition-controlled Congress in this politically unstable Andean nation. On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers fired for seeking to reverse an earlier ruling that would allow Correa to hold a referendum to weaken Congress' powers, scuffled with police as supporters of the President clashed with protesters backing lawmakers in Capital Quito.

Police wearing gas masks thrust riot shields at legislators as tear gas clouded the air around the building. "They hit us," said opposition lawmaker Sylka Sanchez, who also yelled at police, "You traitors!"

One legislator suffered a back injury when he was knocked to the ground. He was carried away on a stretcher and put in an ambulance, according to a health official. "We are in a state of emergency and we are being hunted," fired lawmaker Gloria Gallardo told a television station from inside Congress. "Police are willing to kill lawmakers."

The 100-member congress on March 6 voted to replace Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Jorge Acosta after the court backed Correa's plan to hold a referendum on whether to rewrite the constitution. The court on March 7 ruled the vote unconstitutional and ordered the suspension of lawmakers who voted for it.

The situation in Ecuador tends to worsen as the ousted congressmen lost another legal battle on Tuesday, when the constitutional court rejected their appeal to overturn the earlier ruling. They were expected to continue resisting their dismissals through legal channels.

Backed by his enormous popularity, President Correa is not ready to comeback his decision to call on a Constituent Assembly, which opponents fear it could disolve the Congress. Correa based his presidential campaign in a proposal for a new constitution and his attacks against Congress, a power that played a pivotal role in ousting three presidents in the last decade.

Correa’s leftist political coalition has not presented candidates for Congress, which is therefore controlled by the opposition.

"The country lives a moment of political crisis and my obligation is to protect lawmakers. Congress will not hold a session," Congress president Jorge Cevallos said. Analysts fear the crisis could turn into a political deadlock and street violence surge to end with it.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov