Latin America increasingly troubled, Ecuador’s President dissolves Parliament to avoid impeachment

President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the country’s National Assembly as the opposition-led legislature sought to suspend the head of state over embezzlement allegations.

Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the opposition-dominated National Assembly on Wednesday (May 17th), a drastic move as the right-wing leader faced impeachment proceedings over embezzlement allegations.

The unprecedented constitutional measure allows the president to rule by decree until new elections can be held, marking a moment of extraordinary political turbulence for a country of 18 million people already in turmoil.

Ecuador has long been a relatively safe haven in the region, but in recent years it has seen an increase in violence and homicides as increasingly powerful drug-trafficking groups battle for territory.

Opposition lawmakers accused Lasso of turning a blind eye to irregularities and embezzlement in a contract between a state shipping company and an oil company that failed to keep its promises – allegations first reported by the media. The country’s Constitutional Court later upheld one embezzlement charge against the president, but dismissed two bribery charges.

Last week, the National Assembly voted to begin impeachment hearings, but all proceedings were permanently halted once Lasso dissolved Parliament.

The president has repeatedly denied the allegations, pointing out that the contract was signed before taking office.

“The prosecutors in this trial have admitted they have nothing,” Lasso said in his testimony on Tuesday, May 16. “This investigation is political.”

He added: “This is not about saving a presidency, it’s about maintaining a functioning democracy.”

It is the second time the opposition has tried to oust Lasso from the presidency since he took office in 2021.

Declining popularity

He has faced mounting criticism and petitions for his removal from civil society groups in the face of rising rates of crime, extortion, kidnapping and robbery. Cartels are fighting for control of drug routes and have gained greater control over the country’s prisons, leading to several prison riots and massacres in the past three years.

For weeks, the president and Congress have been at odds, with lawmakers threatening to impeach and remove Lasso, while Lasso has threatened to dissolve Congress and call new elections — a move known in Ecuador under the name of muerte cruzada, or mutual death.

The mechanism was introduced into the constitution in 2008 as a tool to end gridlock between the presidency and the legislature. But so far no president has resorted to it.

Now, with approval ratings plummeting, in some cases below 20 percent, Lasso must call for new presidential and legislative elections and will rule by decree in the meantime. The new president and National Assembly would then rule for two years, until the end of the original term in 2025.

A trend in Latin America

Dissolving Parliament provides temporary stability for the country, said Arianna Tanca, a political scientist in Ecuador, allowing Lasso to pass laws without gridlock and giving political parties a chance to “reset”.

But it also threatens to undermine the country’s democracy. A head of government calling for new elections is common in parliamentary democracies but has no parallel in other presidential democracies in Latin America, said Mauricio Alarcón Salvador, Transparency International’s Ecuador director.

“To see a president shut down Parliament and seize legislative power in a transitory manner is undoubtedly a blow to democracy,” he said. “And, above all, to the system of checks and balances that should be in place in any democracy in the world.”

Lasso’s decision comes amid unrest in the region. In December, Peru’s president attempted to dissolve Parliament — in this case, an illegal move that led to his ouster and arrest, and then widespread protests that left dozens dead.

In January, supporters of Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings in the capital, arguing that the November election, in which he was defeated, was rigged.

Will Freeman, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Lasso’s decision to bypass lawmakers could be good for him.

“Even if he is very unpopular now, it is possible that after six months of ruling by decree he will actually increase his popularity if he can do something quickly about the twin crises of crime and hunger and poverty,” he said. “Though, given his track record, it’s a big if.”

Source: Breaking News – Cele mai importante stiri – by

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