On May 17, the government of Guillermo Lasso announced at a press conference that, pursuant to Art. 148 of the Constitution, the National Assembly would be dissolved and new presidential and legislative elections would be immediately called for the remainder of his term. Immediately, the military and police commanders expressed their support for this decision and urged the population to respect it, warning that in case of any attempt to “alter the constitutional regime,” the military and the police would act firmly.
By: Miguel Merino (ART)
Art. 148 of the Constitution states: “The President of the Republic may dissolve the National Assembly when in his or her opinion it has assumed functions that do not constitutionally belong to it, according to the Constitutional Court’s prior opinion; or if it repeatedly or unjustifiably obstructs the execution of the National Development Plan, or due to a serious political crisis or internal commotion.” Specifically, Lasso based his decision on the third cause, i.e. “serious political crisis and internal commotion.” However, for the vast majority of journalists and the Ecuadorian population, this measure was taken to halt the imminent vote to censure and impeach Lasso in the National Assembly.
Several organizations and political groups of different tendencies immediately challenged such a resolution before the Constitutional Court, considering it unconstitutional, illegal, and nonexistent in fact. But the Court dismissed such claims and the so-called “mutual death” clause remained in force.
The people’s reaction to the government’s decision
The public outcry that this move by the President was unconstitutional was not followed by mobilizations or protests in the streets, except for some small demonstrations carried out by the National Union of Educators and university students linked to the Popular Unity, a legal Stalinist left-wing political organization. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) led by Leonidas Iza, which some weeks ago had warned that it would mobilize in case the government dissolved the Assembly, did not do so, arguing that conditions in the country made it unfit to take such an action.
Among the reasons for this apathy facing an action described as dictatorial by several sectors is the low approval ratings of the National Assembly. This is due to the mediocrity of many of its members, as well as their opportunism, corruption, and lack of political coherence and integrity. The population’s shock at the crime and violence in the streets of many cities also played a part.
The legality of the “mutual death” clause and the political crisis
The cause for using the “mutual death” clause is very subjective and open to a variety of interpretations. It is true there was no internal commotion at the time the measure was issued since all social activities were going on normally. But it cannot be ignored that it was issued in the context of an acute political crisis, for the following reasons:
– The delegitimization and unpopularity of the Lasso government, due to its neoliberal policies, have not provided even partial solutions to the population’s main social demands and have instead benefited small sectors of the financial and commercial bourgeoisie.
– The impeachment trial underway in the National Assembly to remove Lasso from office was about to be resolved, the outcome was probable that the president would be removed.
– The defeat suffered by the government in the recent local elections, including the referendum, won by the main opposition groups (UNES, PK and PSC), a situation that was repeated in the recent election of the representatives for the National Assembly.
– The growing violence and public safety crisis that is currently plaguing the country and that has generated a climate of fear and hopelessness in the population.
– Important struggles such as the strikes carried out in October 2019 and most recently, on June 22, led by the indigenous movement and CONAIE. The latter gave way to some negotiations whose fundamental agreements have not been fulfilled by the government.
– The institutional crisis involving almost all state entities and functions, due to administrative inefficiency, internal conflict, and corruption.
The political and social consequences of the “mutual death”
The first consequence of the measure adopted by the government (in force from May 17 until early November, when the new legislative representatives and executive authorities will be sworn in) is that Lasso will govern without any legislative counterweight or supervision.
He will do so by means of “economic emergency decree-laws” with the prior ruling of the Constitutional Court, as established in the Constitution. Economic management is a broad and ambiguous concept that encompasses a wide range of tax and labor issues, exploitation of natural resources, management of public companies, contracting of infrastructure works, and services of various kinds such as electricity, drinking water, telecommunications, Internet, customs, etc. Consequently, there is a high risk that economic management will compromise economic, social, environmental, and cultural rights related to education, health, food sovereignty, social security, environment, etc., as several social and human rights organizations have warned.
There are no guarantees that the Constitutional Court will exercise with impartiality its obligation to protect the constitutional rights of citizens and the sovereignty of the state, since its role has been more as an arbiter between the powers of the State, now centralized in the executive branch. There is also no confidence that Lasso will not exceed his functions. He can try to pass laws and decrees to benefit the bourgeois sectors he represents at the cost of harmful effects on workers and the impoverished majority of the population, as has already happened in his first two years as president.
At the present time, reforms to the Tax Law that imposed high taxes, especially on the middle class, are already in process with the goal of trying to alleviate the harmful consequences of that law. The issuance of a new Investment Law to create free zones in the country was also just announced. They benefit exporters as they will be exempted from several taxes and will have new logistic incentives. Some analysts have warned that this measure tends to favor the laundering of drug money. A new set of labor reforms was also announced, but the government has not yet dared to issue them for fear of workers’ reaction.
Characterization of the new political situation
Several questions arise after the issuance of the “mutual death” clause: was there a coup d’état by the executive powers against the National Assembly? Was it a self-coup, since the government will end its functions before the legally foreseen period? Is this a Bonapartist turn due to the strengthening of the executive power with the unconditional support of the military and the police, that is, the repressive apparatus of the State? Has there been a change in the political regime? What will happen in the next legislative and executive snap elections scheduled for August 20?
We can affirm that we are facing an unprecedented situation in the history of the country that combines in part some of each of the above possibilities. There was a coup against the Assembly since it was dissolved and is considered a central and essential element of the bourgeois state, according to the principle of separation of powers. It is also a self-coup because Lasso’s government will conclude its term earlier unless he runs as a candidate and is elected at the polls. There is a Bonapartist turn since authoritarianism based on police and military repression will be consolidated, a fact that had already been occurring for some time, but now has a constitutional basis.
It would not be appropriate to speak of a total dictatorship since the Constitution has not been broken, the executive ends its mandate in about six months and has certain legal limitations. There is no doubt that there has been a change of regime since the legislative power does not exist and there will be an institutional reordering of the functions of the state, with a new transitional government that will only last a year and a half in office.
Elections: the central element of the political situation
A new political stage has been opened where the central elements are the presidential and legislative elections to be held within a very short period of time. There is very little time for the definition of candidacies and their registration with the National Electoral Council. A high number of candidates can be foreseen, due to the conditions of dispersion and low level of credibility affecting almost all parties and movements on the national political spectrum, especially CREO, the party of the current ruler.
There are three political groups that have a base and social support, although it is limited. The first one is the Correist UNES, who are followers of former president Rafael Correa, which is the most organized force at a national level and achieved the best results in the recent local election. They have capitalized on the disaster of Lasso’s government. However, it does not have candidates with people’s support for the upcoming presidential elections. The second is Pachakútik, a political expression of the indigenous movement, which is suffering from a strong division between the faction that sold out to the government and the more critical sector, which has a relationship to CONAIE and maintains the original ideological and programmatic principles of the movement. The third is the Social Christian Party (PSC), the most representative and organized right-wing political party, but also worn out by its support of Lasso, although it later joined the opposition bloc in the National Assembly. Its historic leader, Jaime Nebot, has once again declined his candidacy for the presidency of the Republic and has decided to support a new and almost unknown figure, the economist Jean Tópic, who is to be an expert in security and tries to appear to be the Ecuadorian Bukele.
Although it is challenging to make predictions about chaotic Ecuadorian politics, the upcoming electoral contest will probably be defined between the candidates put forward by Correism and right-wing candidates who obtain more support at the polls. This means that state power will be settled between factions of the bourgeoisie that coincide in maintaining the capitalist order.
However, it should not be underestimated what the support of the candidates of the indigenous movement and CONAIE, whose most well-known leader is Leonidas Iza, could achieve. If so, the Correism/anti-Correism dichotomy that has dominated the Ecuadorian political scene since 2006 would be broken. Iza has called for the unity of the people’s camp around a program of democratic demands whose center is the struggle against the neoliberal model.
Since the elections are a space managed by the bourgeoisie, our proposal as ART is not to trust any of the options of the bourgeoisie, be they neoliberal or reformist in character. The only way to overcome the severe economic, social, environmental and insecurity crisis that plagues us is through struggle, mobilization, and organization of the working class and the oppressed sectors. A program of structural transformations that put an end to poverty, inequality, and exploitation inherent to the world capitalist system, currently plunged into deep crisis, is needed for that.