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Ecuador assembly votes to close Congress

Ecuador's constitutional assembly voted Thursday to close the opposition-led Congress until voters decide on a new charter that assembly members will draft to advance President Rafael Correa's left-wing proposals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ecuador's constitutional assembly voted Thursday to close the opposition-led Congress until voters decide on a new charter that assembly members will draft to advance President Rafael Correa's left-wing proposals.

In a vote broadcast on state television, the assembly controlled by Correa's party agreed to assume Congress' legislative powers until Ecuadoreans vote in a referendum next year to ratify the new constitution that will be debated for at least six months.

The move shores up Correa's position after he clashed with lawmakers for blocking some of his legislation after he was elected last year. He has promised sweeping changes in the unstable Andean nation.

A special assembly rewriting Ecuador’s constitution suspended the nation’s congress and said it would take over its functions until a new charter is approved.

Assembly confirms Correa
The assembly, controlled by the new political movement of leftist President Rafael Correa, met for the first time Thursday and overwhelmingly voted to “assume the legislative powers and duties and declare the deputies and alternates in recess.”

The assembly, which will meet for at least six months, also confirmed Correa in his post, after the president offered his resignation in a largely symbolic gesture.

Correa, a 44-year-old former economy minister and Ecuador’s eighth president in the last decade, ran for office last year promising a new charter that would root out corruption and wrest power away from traditional political parties, which he blames for the country’s problems.

Congressional President Jorge Cevallos said Wednesday that congress was going on recess and insisted it would resume sessions early next year.

But the assembly declared the recess would last until the text of the new constitution is approved in a national referendum, which is expected in the second half of 2008. After the new charter is approved, the assembly is expected to call general elections.

‘Sewer of corruption’
Correa has repeatedly called on the assembly to dissolve Congress, which he has called “a sewer of corruption.”

Opposition constitutional assembly member Vicente Taiano called the move “the burial of Ecuador’s democratic and constitutional system” and that it was an example of “dictatorial attitudes” by the Correa-allied majority.

Correa has said he wants the country’s new constitution to let presidents serve two consecutive four-year terms, instead of the one allowed now. He denies he is seeking to stay in power indefinitely.

Correa’s party controls more than 60 percent of assembly seats. The assembly also confirmed Correa’s vice president.

Earlier this year, Correa steamrolled over his foes to give the assembly the power to dismiss any elected official. The row over whether it would have this power plunging the country into a political crisis between the country’s highest electoral court, allied with Correa, and the opposition-controlled Congress.

The fight led to the firing of more than half of the legislature in March.