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, March 07, 2007

Ecuador's Congress fires election court chief

QUITO, March 6 (Reuters) - Ecuador's opposition-dominated Congress fired the head of the election court on Tuesday, which could delay President Rafael Correa's referendum in April aimed at cutting the influence of traditional political parties.

The move by Congress was sure to fuel tension between left-winger Correa and lawmakers trying to secure an opposition majority in the seven-member election court as they question the legality of the referendum, experts said.

Correa, a political outsider elected in November, plans to hold a public vote on April 15 on whether to call a special assembly to rewrite the constitution.

He says the overhaul is needed to curb political parties that many Ecuadoreans blame for instability in South America's No. 5 oil producer.

Opposition lawmakers fear Correa will use the assembly to weaken the legislature and bolster presidential powers, as his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did after his election.

"This was a political move to further delay the referendum and therefor weaken the government's popularity," said Simon Pachano, an analyst with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

"But this could turn into another scandal because the legality of the vote is not yet clear."

The dismissed Electoral Court president, Jorge Acosta, could try to challenge the ruling to remove him without an impeachment, analysts said.

After weeks of street protests by Correa supporters demanding a referendum, lawmakers in February approved the president's initial proposal.

But opposition lawmakers now say Correa made changes to the referendum text without their approval before handing it to election officials. They say the changed version grants the proposed assembly the power to dissolve Congress and they want the Constitutional Court to declare the referendum invalid.

Fifty-two of the 73 lawmakers at Tuesday's session voted to remove Acosta on the grounds he failed to fulfill his Patriotic Society party's political mandate. Court members are picked by the seven political parties with the most votes.

Acosta, a lawyer close to toppled president Lucio Gutierrez, was one of four court members who voted to approve the referendum last week. Congress said his replacement must be named by Gutierrez's party.

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