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.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ecuador election tribunal votes to fire 57 congressmen in showdown over constitution

IHT, March 7, 2007

QUITO, Ecuador: The country's highest electoral court voted to dismiss 57 congressmen for allegedly interfering with a referendum on whether to rewrite the constitution, in an escalating fight over Ecuador's charter.

It was unclear if the electoral tribunal has the authority to fire members of the 100-seat Congress; the issue might eventually be decided by a separate Constitutional Tribunal.

But Ecuador's new leftist President Rafael Correa said he would respect the decision and his government sent police on Thursday to keep the 57 lawmakers out of the Congress building.

Wednesday's court ruling was part of a clash over a constitutional assembly sought by Correa, who wants to limit the power of a political class he blames for the impoverished nation's problems.

Earlier Wednesday, the same 57 congressmen signed a petition to initiate impeachment proceedings against four tribunal members who approved the referendum.

The same four members of the seven-seat tribunal then cast votes to dismiss the congressmen.

Congress' president, Jorge Cevallos, said in a news conference that the court's decision has "no legal basis," adding that the measure sought only to "create chaos in the country and confrontation."

Constitutional expert Enrique Herreria told The Associated Press that the tribunal's decision is a "flagrant" violation of the constitution.

The court "can fire public officials, (but) the lawmakers are not public officials. They're elected by the people," said Herreria, a former member of Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal.

Herreria described the actions by Congress and the tribunal as "political vendettas" within the framework of a "constant violation" of Ecuador's Constitution.

In a statement late Wednesday, Correa said his government respects the tribunal's measure and that the lawmakers' decision to replace the court's president was "absolutely unconstitutional."

The tribunal said it had informed the national police and the attorney general's office of its decision.

Asked if police would be used to stop the 57 lawmakers from entering Congress, Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea responded: "That is the decision of the Supreme Tribunal ... and they have to enforce it."

Tribunal President Jorge Acosta returned to his office Wednesday, disregarding a congressional vote to dismiss him a day earlier.

Congress approved the April 15 referendum on whether to rewrite the charter last month, but stipulated that the 130-member assembly would not have the power to dismiss lawmakers or officials elected last year.

But Correa, who has called Congress "a sewer of corruption," later said the assembly will have the power to dismiss not only lawmakers but judges and even the president himself.

The tribunal accepted Correa's version of the referendum last week, prompting lawmakers to call the vote unconstitutional and dismiss Acosta, who provided the swing vote when the body accepted Correa's referendum plan.

"They want to cheat the Ecuadorean people out of their referendum," said Acosta, adding lawmakers do not have the legal power to dismiss a member of the electoral court.

On Monday, lawmakers petitioned Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal to declare the referendum unconstitutional. On Tuesday, they voted to fire Acosta in an effort to block the referendum.

Acosta's congressionally appointed replacement, Alejandro Cepeda, said police blocked him from entering the tribunal's offices on Wednesday.

Correa, who took office Jan. 15, has rejected accusations of authoritarianism and says his proposed reforms aim to make elected officials more accountable.

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