Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New Congress, New Political Game

Per postings earlier this month, democracy and specifically, the legislative branch of government here in Ecuador have been in complete disarray, what with the firing of 57 of the Ecuadorian Congress' 100 Diputados by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE; see three most recent postings for details on how/why this happened).

Since President Rafael Correa's National Police force would not allow the fired Diputados to return to Congress (claiming that they were merely enforcing a legal decision taken by the TSE), Congress had remained in recess (or moribund, depending on your point of view) since March 7, leaving the country without a legislature and without any focal point for the three major opposition parties, the Social Christian Party (PSC, Leon Febres Cordero/Jaime Nebot), the Party for Renovation and Independence (PRIAN, Alvaro Noboa), and the Patriotic Partnership Party (PSP, Lucio Gutierrez).

Yesterday, March 20, collaboration between three small parties sympathetic to Correa (Pachakutik, the Izquierda Democratica, and PRE (Abdullah Bucaram), the Correa government (specifically, Gustavo Larrea, the Minister of Government, who heads the National Police), and 21 Diputados Alternos (Diputados Suplentes, or backup Diputados, all legally elected in this role last year) who were willing to defy their PSC, PRIAN, and PSP leadership, resulted in the convention of a new, reconstituted Congress consisting of non-fired Diputados (31 of the 43 surviviors only; no idea where the other guys were) and the aforementioned Alternos.

The Correa allies worked out a deal whereby the TSE would certify the Alternos as legal alternates to the fired Diputados, and based on this, the President of the Congress, Jorge Cevallos (a PRIAN survivor, btw; he didn't vote to fire the TSE President earlier this month, and so escaped the massacre) swore in the 21 Alternos as legal reps.

The Alternos (nine from the PSP, nine from the PRIAN and three from the PSC) are basically party defectors considered turncoats by their leaders. The Alternos have decided to call themselves the Bloque de Dignidad, and they claim that they're absolutely independent of any political influence. More than one comentarista has noted however, that anyone who sneaks into Congress under Correa police protection at 5:00 in the morning can hardly call themselves dignified, let alone independent of the Correa government.

In any event, the Alternos and the survivors consitute a quorum of 52 pro-government reps and so Congress is back in business. For the moment, it appears that Correa and his allies have neatly neutralized the old Congress and the "partidocracia" of the three principal, old line political parties (although the PSP, a Gutierrez creation, was only five years old) recasting the Congress to Correa's liking, and marginalizing the old liners from political dialogue - at least for the moment.

This is Ecuador, after all, and more one political ghost has arisen from the (politically) dead in the past, so it's premature to call the game for Correa. Several of the fired Diputados have filed complaints with the Constitutional Tribunal alleging that their removal was unconstitutional; the TC has yet to opine on these complaints, so remote possibility exists that the TC could reverse the firings (NB: Just to make things interesting, some TSE members have threatened to take out the TC too, if it dares contravene the TSE during an election campaign; the TSE avers that it literally, constitutes the SUPREME decision making body during the run up to the Consulta Popular on April 15, and if anyone or any institution crosses it, they're history.)

So, what's the net effect on the country? At this point, the general perception of the media, plus people calling/writing in to the media on opinion polls is that Correa, the TSE and assorted allies are in the right on all of this, and that the old line partidocracia has brought this all on themselves. Aside from various political analysts and commentaristas in the print media, no one seems to be overly concerned by the fact that there's been a de facto dissolution of one of the three pillars of a democracy, or by the implications of that dissolution for the future of democracy here. Conventional wisdom on the street is that most of the fired Diputados were either corrupt, arrogant rats themselves, or beholden to party leaders who are, so hey, they had it coming, and the country WILL have a Consulta Popular, which will almost assuredly approve a Constituent Assembly charged with redesigning Ecuador's political landscape.

In the meantime, March events have left two ominous clouds hanging over the country.

First, events of the last three weeks have created a power vacuum resultant from the effective destruction of organized and meaningful political opposition to Correa in the context of national politics. The only formidable opposition figure around is Jaime Nebot, member of the PSC and mayor of Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, but he, for the moment, has refused to become official leader of the PSC after Febres Cordero's departure, and he has limited his differences with Correa to regional issues concerning control of the Guyaquil power elite over Guayas province and its resources.

The leader of PRIAN, Alvaro Noboa, lives in Miami and throughout all of this, has contented himself with occasional, weird phone calls to his followers and inarticulate rantings against Correa (Chavez, dictaduria, etc.). Lucio Gutierrez, the corrupt ex-President who inadvertently triggered all of this by trying to (unconstitutionally) fire the TSE President, who he thought was his employee, has thoroughly discredited himself, his party, and the other parties by pulling exactly the corrupt political stunts that Correa had said he would.

En fin, of the three major parties who might present a threat, none of them have effective or willing leadership right now.

The second problem looming on the horizon concerns the precedent that this "March madness" has created in the political world here. No one has missed the fact that Correa has won this round and everyone is aware of the messianic righteousness of the man and his attitudes towards the political and economic establishments in this country. The problem is, that in winning, Correa and his allies rightly see themselves as being on a roll at the moment, and even more problematic, it appears that the Ecuadorian public is willing to go along with all this. The one possible redeeming factor, ironically, is that Ecuadorians are notoriously fickle, and they could very well turn on Correa and bring him down (the "riding the tiger" syndrome). Right now, though, Correa's very much in charge, so the interrogante in many minds is, what will Correa and cia do to gain control of the Constituent Assembly, and when (not if) they do, what will they do with it?

1 comment:

boz said...

Thanks for your e-mail.

When I tried to respond, the e-mail bounced back. If you can send me a different e-mail address, I'd appreciate it.