The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ecuador's Congress approves national referendum on constitutional assembly

February 13, 2007. IHT

QUITO, Ecuador: Congress approved on Tuesday a national referendum on whether to call a constitutional assembly, bowing to demands by new leftist President Rafael Correa.

Correa, who took office Jan. 15, is calling for an assembly to rewrite Ecuador's Constitution in an effort to limit the power of traditional political parties, which he blames for this poverty wracked nation's problems. Ecuador has had seven presidents in the last decade.

The referendum initiative was approved 57-1 in the 100-member Congress. Most opposition lawmakers abandoned the session before the vote in protest, calling the measure unconstitutional.

The country's highest electoral court has ruled lawmakers must decide whether to hold the referendum, which critics say is an attempt by Correa to consolidate power in the presidency.

Nearly a thousand people gathered outside Congress, including hundreds of highland Indians in traditional clothing, to shout support for the referendum and pressure Congress to approve it.

The measure passed with the support of leftist and center-left parties and congressmen belonging to former President Lucio Gutierrez's populist party. Gutierrez was driven from power in 2005 by street protests, in which Correa participated. His party has 24 lawmakers, the second largest bloc in Congress.

"We're going to have generalized chaos throughout the country starting tomorrow," said Federico Perez, the only congressman who stayed to vote against the measure.

He said the referendum was illegal because the current constitution says reforms must be made by Congress, not by a special assembly. Perez said his fellow congressmen were intimidated by the protests outside Congress.

"How is it possible that under pressure ... with the pretext that we need reforms that we all want, the constitution is violated?" he asked.

Correa's backers stormed the building last month to pressure Congress to hold the vote, forcing a suspension of the session.

On Monday, 300 protesters who gathered outside Congress also demanded that the assembly be granted broad powers including the ability to dissolve Congress.

Earlier this month, Correa's government denied any plans to dissolve Congress, which the president has called a "sewer of corruption." He has rejected accusations of authoritarianism.

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