Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rush to Closure

I haven't written about Ecuadorian politics in months for reason I mentioned back in January (i.e., not wanting to be negative most, if not all, of the time).

As well, I've been working hard to keep my little restaurant and hostal business going, and it's been tough, tough struggle on that front, with consequent financial and emotional toll that such struggles take on one over time. Still, we're alive and open, and that counts, I like to think.

While this has been going on, the Constituent Assembly and specifically, its majority bloc, Acuerdo Pais under the leadership of Rafael Correa have continued issuing Mandates and developing parts of a draft Constitution intended to replace the present one.

June 24 update:

Work took me away from this, but then yesterday morning, Alberto Acosta, President of the Asamblea Constituyente, resigned which brings me back to my neglected blog.

Acosta has resigned but will remain as member of the AC, since he is the Asamblista mas votado del pais. That said, it's clear that Acosta was forced out of the AC Presidency because he didn't believe that the AC could do an adequate job of developing a new Constitution within the 180 day term initially allotted the AC to do the job. (The enabling statute approved by the Consulta Popular setting up the entire AC process envisions a 60 day follow on period, if necessary, which could take the AC to the end of September.)

As has been clear to all observers for quite some time, it is Rafael Correa who's been directing the AC, and a couple of weeks ago, he made it publicly clear that he wants the AC to wrap its work up by July 26. It appears that Correa's public statement on the AC timetable spelled the end of Acosta's tenure as AC President, and yesterday, he resigned. His resignation, which came as a surprise to nearly all political observers including most of his colleagues with the majority Acuerdo Pais bloc, was accepted by the bloc last night.

Acosta had hoped to convene a plenary session yesterday afternoon to discuss/explain his resignation, but the AP bloc went into caucus by itself with the Political Bureau (how Soviet!) of AP to discuss the implications of Acosta's resignation; it's presumed that the Buro will direct AP members to accept Acosta's resignation. Early news reports this morning (June 24) indicate that Correa will meet with the bloc today in Manabi to discuss next steps.

Acosta held a press conference last night at the AC surrounded by opposition members of the AC and no one from the AP, to explain his resignation. He came across as a "good soldier" type, bowing to the leadership of the AP (Correa) and vowing to continue participating in the AC process. He said that he felt more time was needed for the process to ensure "full social particpation" in developing the Constitution, but that Correa feels that if the process continues beyond July it would be "political suicide", and so he's out as AC President.

As noted, Acosta will stay on the AC, but the Presidency will apparently pass to Fernando Cordero, the AC's Vice President, the second most voted Asamblista and a person who's been vocal in asserting that yes, the AC CAN complete its work by July 26. It's not clear whether that's possible or not, but it does appear that hundreds of articles of the new Constitution remain to be debated and approved. Commentators/analysts believe that in order to do that and finish by the July deadline, the AC will have sit in session six days a week for all remaining weeks and work eight to ten hours a day every day. We'll see if they can do it.

Aside from the sheer workload, the question also arises as to whether the AC should select a new VP (its by-laws never envisioned resignation of the AC President, so there are no provisions regarding selection of a replacement VP) and if so, who that person might be.

The question at the moment is whether the AP will maintain its internal discipline which has served it well up to now, or whether divisions resulting from (possible) struggle for the AC VP position will emerge. Given that Correa has prevailed over Acosta, the second most powerful political figure in Ecuador and the AP, my guess right now is that the AP will hold firm and continue to work together in disciplined manner, striving to comply with the July 26 deadline.

Finally (since I couldn't work this subject artfully somewhere else into the narrative), why the rush to finish up by July 26 and why Acosta's comment about extensions being political suicide for Correa? Basically, it's an issue of diminishing political returns over time for the AC and behind it, Correa. As the AC process has played out over time, it's become increasingly obvious that AP and Correa have had many more things in mind than just a new Constitution and that they didn't have any qualms in highjacking the AC process to advance their politica agenda. As well, on both Constitutional and non-Constitutional issues, it's become increasingly clear that the AP (80 out of 130 Asamblistas, recall) in doing whatever it wants, is advancing a haphazard, quasi-socialist political agenda that has done nothing to strengthen investor confidence in Ecuador, and indeed (I believe) has adversely affected living standards and employment in the country.

At the least, steadily declining approval ratings for the AC and for that matter, Correa himself, seem to indicate that more and more people are losing hope that the AC process will achieve real positive change, let alone improve the lives and incomes of ordinary folks here in Ecuador, and for the same reason, the chances that the country will approve the work of the AC are declining.

For these reasons, Correa and his allies are in a hurry to finish up the AC work and get it out to a Consulta Popular; chances are not all that good that it'll be approved now, and the more time goes by, the bleaker the political outlook for the new Constitution. Still, haste makes waste, as they say, and that's the dilemma: Will speeding up the process improve chances for approval of the new Constitution, or will accelerating the process make for an even worse product (what's been produced to date isn't impressive) which could be rejected by the pueblo (or worse, accepted, only to drive an already weak economy into the ground)? No easy choices for anyone....