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Till Death Do Us Part: Correa Seeks to Remain in Power Indefinitely

By: María Gabriela Díaz - May 26, 2014, 9:49 am

Español“I don’t want to be reelected, I’m extremely tired,” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said during an interview in November, 2013. However, it seems Correa’s exhaustion has passed. On Saturday, in front of a crowd cheering “reelection,” the president asked his parliamentary bloc to introduce a constitutional amendment to enable him to run for a fourth time in the 2017 presidential elections.

After highlighting his administration’s achievements during his annual report, President Correa announced his recent change of mind in front of the National Assembly: “I have decided to support these initiatives and request our parliamentary bloc to amend the constitution and establish indefinite reelection for all elected offices.”

The need to protect the socialist model and prevent “right-wing elites” from coming back to power were the reasons he used to justify the amendment that could extend his time in office indefinitely. “There’s a ‘soft’ coup on the making, like the one Venezuela is going through 100 days ago… The responsibility to defend this process is not only the government’s, but the citizens’ as well,” the president explained.

However, fewer than five months have passed since he expressed a very different opinion about indefinite reelection during an interview with newspaper El Telégrafo. At that time has said that to continue as president would cause the country “great harm, if a single person were so indispensable.”

Even though this past Saturday Correa officially announced his decision, the possibility of an indefinite reelection in Ecuador is not new. Since February, Fabián Solano, a member of Ecuador’s National Assembly and president of the Socialist Party, has been lobbying to put forward this constitutional amendment.

Taking the High Road? No, Thank You

Ecuador’s constitution doesn’t allow a third reelection, it only allows two consecutive four-year terms in office. Therefore, for Correa to change the rules of the game he has two options.

Alexandra Veloz, lawyer based in Quito and former columnist with the PanAm Post, explained the legal context in which this reform would take place.

“Ecuador’s constitution provides two alternatives: an amendment (art. 441) and a partial reform (art. 442). Given the way the constitution is drafted, the conditions to apply one or the other one are very subtle, and they can easily be handled according to the interests of those who interpret it. Both articles are not clear on which has to be applied.”

Each alternative offers a different process: (1) the amendment can be achieved through a referendum, or (2) through two parliamentary hearings. In the latter, it then must be approved with two thirds of the National Assembly. If the president decides to change the constitution through a partial reform, then the legislative first debates it, but its approval depends solely on the citizenry through a referendum.

According to Alexis Mera, a legal adviser to the president, the first parliamentary debate on the amendment will be anytime before October of this year, and the second one in the following year. Also last Thursday, a member of parliament and supporter of the ruling party, Soledad Buendía, introduced the bill for a constitutional amendment.

“This confirmed which way they will be using: the amendment approved by the assembly,” Veloz explains.

“This option comes out as the best one for Correa. Since the decision doesn’t have to go through a referendum, and given that he has on his side more than the necessary two thirds of the National Assembly to pass this bill, he will have enough to fulfill the necessary steps to change the constitution.” Correa’s ruling party PAIS Alliance currently holds 100 out of the 137 parliamentary seats.

Even though he acknowledges that in fact it’s the “Ecuadorian people” who will “choose between the continuity or the alternation of its rulers,” the argument doesn’t appear to hold regarding the chosen approach to achieving this amendment. In 2011, for example, Correa convened a referendum for another constitutional reform to modify articles related to imprisonment, and the financial sector.

This begs the question why Correa has decided not to leave the decision in the hands of the Ecuadorian people. “Maybe this time he doesn’t feel that confident as before,” Veloz asserts.

If the reform passes, Correa would be heading to the polls for the fourth time. He first won the presidential election in 2006, and put forward a constitutional reform in 2008 to “re-found the Ecuadorian state,” that allowed a one-time reelection. Once the new law of the land was approved, a new set of elections were set for 2009 in which Ecuadorians chose Correa one more time as their president. Four years later, he ran for reelection, and won for the third time.

Back in April Guillermo Lasso, leader of the opposition party CREO, made clear that he rejects an eventual constitutional amendment that could affect the alternation of power, democracy’s main feature.

“We don’t agree with the indefinite reelection of any office in Ecuador. We need to promote new leadership and new political projects. The current constitution allows that political projects to continue, but not its people.”

Correa is not the first one in Latin America to change the constitution and perpetuate himself in power. In 2009, Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chávez won a referendum that would change the constitution, and take him to a third term. Similarly, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua achieved the amendment in January of this year.

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.