Ecuadorian President uses undercover lawmakers to fight opposition

In an unprecedented move, President Rafael Correa ordered alternate lawmakers to the ones fired earlier this week, to attend to a Congress session under the cover of darkness. 21 alternate legislators were shuttled to the congressional building before dawn Tuesday as hundreds of national police stood watch, allowing the 100-seat legislature to begin a session with a quorum for the first time in two weeks.

The battle between Correa and the National Congress worsened in early March when a majority of congressmen voted to oust the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for approving President Rafael Correa's version of an April 15 referendum plan on the need for a new constitution. The tribunal responded by dismissing 57 lawmakers, accusing them of trying to block the referendum.

Since then, a deep institutional crisis erupted with the fired lawmakers trying to come back to Congress and opponents to Rafael Correa trying to block the access to the building to alternate legislators.

The new legislators –all of them coming from the three main opposition parties- had previous conversations with Correa’s collaborators to support him, but it is unclear what effect they will have on Correa's influence in Congress.

With the new lawmakers, the Ecuadorian Congress is now able to function, but as Correa’s party has no seats at Congress, the situation is far from being clear.

Congress President Jorge Cevallos said the installation of the lawmakers was intended to "overcome the political crisis." But he criticized the alternates for sneaking into Congress before dawn. "This is not a good start," Cevallos said. "They should come in through the front door. No one has any reason to hide."

In the meantime, fired congressmen condemned the alternates as traitors. “They have betrayed their political party," said Alfonso Harb, an ousted Social Christian lawmaker. "We don't recognize the legitimacy of today's session."

Opponents to Correa denounced that alternate lawmakers were offered money to break in the Congressional building and take their seats in the middle of the night. The government has denied allegations.

President Rafael Correa is a leftist economist and an admirer of his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez. He, is pushing for a new charter to limit the power of traditional political parties, which he blames for the country's corruption and political instability.

Correa’s party refused to present candidates to Congress in an attempt to discredit an institution that was a key factor in the long-running political instability of the country. Under a presidential system, Ecuador has had eight presidents in the past decade.

The president is committed to change the constitution and has plans to renegotiate the country’s foreign debt, as well as to rewrite contracts with foreign oil companies operating in the country.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Alex Naumov