Thursday, March 08, 2007

So, How Do You Feel About Being Fired by the Guys You Fired?

....Or, who the hell's in charge here?

That's what a lot in inquiring minds want to know here in Ecuador, today, Thursday, March 8.

To recap: At this point, we've got about 350 cops surrounding the Ecuadorian Congress this morning, with the mission of keeping 57 Diputados fired from their jobs by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) after/after the Diputados fired the President of the TSE from HIS job.

The Diputados maintain that they really didn't fire Jorge Acosta, the TSE President, they merely voted to send in a substitute President after Acosta voted with three other TSE members to approve a national pleibescite on the Constituent Assembly proposed by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

The (ex-) Diputados from the three traditional, conservative parties, the Partido Social Cristiano (Leon Febres Cordero, Jaime Nebot, y Cynthia Viteri, leaders), the Partido Sociedad Patriotica (ex-Presidente Lucio Gutierrez and his brother, Gilmar), and the Partido para Renovacion Nacional (Alvaro Noboa) voted to dump Acosta, not because he voted for the pleibescite, but because he voted to approve the language on the pleibescite supplied by the Corrrea government, which asks voters to approve a Constituent Assembly with virtually unlimited authorities to restructure the Constitution and Government of Ecuador.

The PSC, PSP, and PRIAN fear, with good reason, that fully empowered Assembly could very well disolve Congress and write up a new Constitution which would revamp the political power structure so as to marginalize the traditonal, power parties. The TSE had given the Congress a chance to opine on Correa's Constituent Assembly idea in early February, when Correa first passed his Assembly proposal to the TSE for their clearance. The TSE elected to duck the issue at that point by passing the Correa proposal to Congress for their comments (but not approval).

Congress (the three traditional parties plus some small allied groups) promptly re-wrote Correa's initiative so as to narrowly circumscribe Constituent Assembly authorities and protect all traditional institutions (Congress, the Court system, the TSE, etc.) from the Assembly's ability to change anything; in essence, seeking the maintain the political status quo, while allowing the pleibescite and the National Assembly idea to continue, albeit in a castrated state.

Congress sent the rewritten pleibescite language back to the TSE expecting that that body would approve their language since all seven members of the TSE were named/approved by the political parties (NB: The parties' control of the TSE is one of the major problems that Correa hopes to resolve via the National Assembly). To the surprise of everyone, though, the Correa government sent a new version of its proposal directly to the TSE, and even more surprisingly, the TSE President, Jorge Acosta (appointed to the job by the PSP, although not a PSP member himself) voted along with three members of the TSE sympathetic to Correa, to approve the new, revised Correa language which Congress had not seen, and definitely did not accept.

Acosta and his allies on the TSE (and the Correa government, of course) now take to position that in electoral matters such as the pleibescite, the TSE has full authority to manage the process from now on out, independent of the Congress, and that any attempt by governmental officials (including Diputados) to interfere with the TSE in fulfillment of its mandate constitutes grounds for dismissal. When the traditional parties decided to "substitute" one of Gutierrez's/PSP made men for Acosta (they could not figure out a justification for firing him, and indeed, appear to have had no authorities to do so), Acosta and his allies on the TSE adroitly turned the tables on the Diputados and accused them of interfering in TSE matters and the conduct of the pleibescite, and (still with me on all of this?) fired the very people who proposed to fire Acosta.

Naturally, Correa and his team see Acosta as the perfect, maverick ally, and they've come to his support by 1) providing cops (Correa's Minister of Government controls the National Police) to surround the TSE and prevent Gutierrez's "substitute from entering TSE offices and replacing Acosta, and 2) providing the aforementioned 350 cops to surround the Congress and preventing the 57 Diputados who voted to get rid of Acosta from entering their/their offices.

....And that's where we stand right now. Congress had taken issue with the Correa language for the pleibescite earlier and sent a request for injunction against that language to the Constitutional Tribunal but the TC says it can't opine for 30 days or so. In retrospect, the traditional parties might have been smarter to stick with the TC appeal, but that's takena political back seat to the current stand-off between the Congress and the TSE.

Finally, informal media polls this morning show very strong backing for the TSE (and Correa) in face of Congressional moves; conventional wisdom in the street is that Congressional shenanigans of the sort seen in the last few days only serve to give Correa more credibility in his charges of "partidocracia politiqueria". The danger in this, of course, is that, in lending more political force to Correa and his group, the country could very well end up with a much more leftist Constituent Assembly and Constitution - the very thing that the traditional parties have very clumsily tried to head off.

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