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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ecuador president gambles future on new assembly

By Alonso Soto

QUITO (Reuters), August 20, 2007 - Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is gambling his political future on securing a majority in a special assembly to rewrite the constitution and push a leftist agenda so far stymied by his opponents in Congress.

Correa, a political outsider who took office in January, has seen key proposals struck down or diluted by lawmakers who once supported his reformist agenda but are now among the harshest critics of the former finance minister.

Popular with Ecuadoreans fed up with political infighting, Correa vows to disband Congress if his party can pull off a majority in a 130-member assembly to revamp the constitution.

Correa has promised to quit should he lose the September 30 vote, threatening to reignite the political upheaval that has seen three presidents toppled by street protests in the last decade. But he could still try to build a majority with alliances even without an outright win.

"This is crucial for us. If we do poorly in the assembly, our government will do poorly," said Alberto Acosta, the head candidate for Correa's political alliance. "This is our chance to push our reformist agenda."

With no representatives in Congress, Correa briefly enjoyed sway over the legislature after a court fired 57 opposition lawmakers in March for obstructing his plans to create the popular assembly.

But in a show of independence, new legislators have turned against Correa, who has spooked investors with pledges to renegotiate oil deals and Ecuador's foreign debt and curb the power of traditional elites.

Correa also wants to divide Congress in two chambers and ensure judges are appointed on merit instead of political patronage. He has not yet made clear his specific economic reform proposals.

Opposition leaders say Correa wants to use the assembly to bolster his powers and control key institutions as his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez did after his 1998 election.

Correa remains popular but with 3,229 candidates vying for 130 seats, from a Roman Catholic priest to beauty queens, he may struggle to secure an majority in the assembly.

A panel of experts is reviewing constitutional reform proposals to present the assembly with an initial draft rewrite. A majority in the assembly must approve a new constitution before it is ratified in a referendum.


Experts warn the proportional representation method for assigning seats could lead to fragmented assembly and make it more difficult to secure a majority.

Polls show voters are confused about the complicated election process, and do not know the candidates well.

"I prefer to vote for thieves I know, than for new thieves I don't know," said Carlos Conejo, a 34-year-old taxi driver.

Pro-Correa candidate Acosta acknowledged it was unlikely his "Movimiento Pais" movement would clinch an ample win, but said he foresees negotiations with other groups to forge a working majority in the assembly.

"At the end of the day, this vote will measure Correa's approval ratings," said Carlos Cordova, a pollster with Cedatos Gallup. "His popularity is key to predict the results."

Correa's popularity dropped from a peak of 76 percent in April to 59 percent in July after his government was hit by a corruption scandal involving his economy minister and by his own confrontational style, a Cedatos poll found.

Other analysts say that even if Correa secures a majority, he will have a hard time keeping his candidates in line. Many of those backing Correa are dissidents from other parties, political bosses in provinces and political newcomers.

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