Author Topic: Protests in Ecuador as lawmakers approve unlimited presidential terms  (Read 1086 times)

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Offline Mister Toast

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Protests in Ecuador as lawmakers approve unlimited presidential terms
Street demonstrations erupt as National Assembly passes constitutional amendment that paves way for Rafael Correa to be re-elected indefinitely
Ecuador’s National Assembly voted on Thursday to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing presidential term limits from 2021 onwards. A few blocks from the building police clashed with demonstrators who see it as an attempt by President Rafael Correa to tighten his grip on power.

Correa, who has been president since 2007, has said he will sit out the next election when his second term finishes in 2017. Analysts see the move as a way of sidestepping rising discontent after his government responded to an economic slump by imposing new taxes and slashing public spending.
Protesters wielding sticks battled with riot police and burned tyres in the capital, Quito, in the hours surrounding the vote. Demonstrations against the amendments also took place in Guayaquil and Cuenca.
The package of 16 constitutional amendments was voted through on a margin of 100-8 vote in the 137-seat National Assembly, in which Correa’s Alianza Pais party has a two-thirds majority. Several opposition politicians boycotted the vote.
“We will continue governing for the common good with total democratic legitimacy,” Correa tweeted from Europe, where he was attending the Paris conference on climate change.
“They [the opposition] want us to go back to the old country dominated by the usurpation of popular representation, inmobilise us, impede us from governing.
“We may make mistakes but in Ecuador, the Ecuadorean people are in charge.”

The opposition congressman Luis Fernando Torres called the vote “constitutional fraud” as it approved reforms without a referendum. Opinion polls indicate 80% of Ecuadoreans wanted the amendments to be put to a national vote but the constitutional court ruled it unnecessary.
“There’s a political game here, in the style of Russia’s Putin,” said Cesar Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, a press freedom watchdog. He pointed to popular opinion that Correa would emulate the Russian leader by handing the presidency to a pliant successor who would pave the way for his return in 2021.
Also under the amended constitution, communications would be classified as a “public service”, which Ricaurte said would give Correa’s government “disproportionate control” over “any aspect of the media”.

An existing communications law already seriously curtailed freedom of expression, he said, allowing the government’s intervention in the programming of national broadcasters and the editorial stance of newspapers.

 “It has concentrated enormous media power in the hands of the government and the governing party, eliminating the plurality of voices,” Ricaurte said.
Fundamedios, which has counted 402 state-backed legal actions against media outlets in 2015, was shut down by the Ecuadorean government, then
allowed to reopen after an international outcry.
Other controversial changes include granting the military the authority to control domestic security without the need for a state of emergency, under which rights and freedoms can be suspended.

The NGO Human Rights Watch said the reforms would further weaken citizens’ rights. It accused Ecuador’s security forces of using “excessive force to disperse largely peaceful anti-government protests” earlier this year.

Ecuador’s economy is expected to grow by just 0.1% in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Ramiro Crespo, director of Analytica Securities in Quito, said rising unemployment and a looming credit crunch could mean “more street demonstrations and harsher repression”.
Ecuador is the third Latin American country to approve indefinite re-election, after Venezuela and Nicaragua. Voters in Bolivia will decide in a referendum in February whether to change the constitution to allow President Evo Morales to run for another term in 2019.