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.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Alternates take the place of Ecuador's fired lawmakers

Taipei Times, QUITO
Thursday, Mar 22, 2007, Page 7

Ecuador's constitutional crisis took a new twist as alternate lawmakers were escorted into Congress under the cover of darkness and sworn in to replace some of the legislators fired by the country's highest electoral court.

The 21 alternate lawmakers were shuttled to the congressional building before dawn on Tuesday as hundreds of national police stood watch, allowing the 100-seat unicameral legislature to begin a session with a quorum of 55 lawmakers for the first time in two weeks.

The crisis deepened early this month when majority of the 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.

Correa, a leftist whose party holds no seats in the current Congress, is pushing for a new charter to limit the power of the country's traditional political parties, which he blames for the country's corruption and political instability. Ecuador has had eight presidents in the last decade.

Correa has acknowledged that administration officials met with groups of alternate congressmen to encourage them to take up the posts left by the dismissal of the regular legislators, but it is unclear what effect the alternate lawmakers will have on Correa's influence in Congress. The 21 alternate lawmakers installed on Tuesday belonged to the three major opposition parties.

Congress President Jorge Cevallos said the installation of the lawmakers was intended to "overcome the political crisis."

The fired congressmen, however, immediately condemned the alternate congressmen as traitors.

"They have betrayed their political party," Alfonso Harb, an ousted Social Christian lawmaker said, referring to three alternates from his party who took the oath of office. "We don't recognize the legitimacy of today's session."

Although the 21 alternate lawmakers allow for a 51-member quorum in Congress, many congressional decisions need a two-thirds majority -- or 67 votes -- to pass. That means if the remaining 36 alternate lawmakers are not sworn in, Congress may not be able to pass important legislation.

Cevallos said he hopes to have those alternates installed by next week. If not, he said he will call on the second alternates.

The alternate lawmakers were elected at the same time as the regular congressmen, and are supposedly handpicked by the lawmakers they stand in for and represent the same political parties.

Alvaro Noboa, the billionaire banana baron defeated in last November's presidential election runoff, accused Correa of offering the alternate lawmakers money or other favors to get them to take up their posts in Congress.

Noboa said it was an example of the "the system of the briefcase man" at work, Ecuadorian slang for political bribes.

The administration has denied bribing the alternate lawmakers.

"This is not a good start," Cevallos said of the substitute lawmakers' sneaking into Congress before dawn. "They should come in through the front door. No one has any reason to hide."

Former president Lucio Gutierrez also criticized the alternate congressmen for entering the building with police protection.

"What kind of democracy is this?" said Gutierrez, who was forced from office in April 2005 by Congress amid street protests. "This is a de facto government that intimidates, that persecutes people."

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