Ecuador’s New Constitution Invites Future Problems

Late last week, Ecuador’s Central Bank Minister Robert Andrade resigned in the wake of the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly’s resounding 94-32 vote approving a new constitution that is likely to strip the financial institution of its autonomy. If ratified in a countrywide referendum on September 28, the new constitution will be Ecuador’s twentieth such organic document since the country achieved its independence in 1830. President Rafael Correa of the Alianza Party has ferociously supported the drafting and eventual promulgation of the constitution in an effort to strengthen his executive powers and prospects for attaining his political and economic goals. However, Correa has stated that if the constitutional referendum is defeated, he will step down from office and that the ousted Congress will then take power. A complicating factor is that the popularity of the constitution with the general public has dwindled to a low point in mid-July of only 32 percent. This represents a dramatic drop from the 82 percent approval rating which was recorded at the time that the Constituent Assembly was created in April 2007. The proposed constitution has since been widely criticized for reflecting only the goals of the ruling coalition and not representing the interests of the entire Ecuadorian population.

The Constituent Assembly has been called upon for the past 8 months to fill the void left by the terminated Ecuadorian Congress, which was dissolved by Correa in November 2007 because he claimed it was “corrupt and inept.” However, Correa’s alternative to the undoubtedly “corrupt” congress has been an assembly dominated by his party, which holds 60 percent of the 160 seats and appears unrepresentative of other political parties. For a country that has experienced tremendous political strife and instability over the past decade-including three ousted presidents in the past ten years-the need for a strong, fair and abiding constitution is pressing.

Although Ecuador’s new 444-article constitution has many important provisions for improving the functioning of a number of the country’s basic institutions, Correa’s attempt to establish a stronger hold on executive power and increase state control of the economy has raised widespread doubts among the local business community and discouraged some foreign investment. If ratified, the constitution would allow Correa to maintain executive power until 2017, dissolve Congress and directly control monetary policy. His critics say that a significant increase in executive power may set the wrong precedent for a country that has suffered at the hands of ineffective leaders in recent decades. Some of the more conservative critics fear that the new constitution also features a leftist tilt such as stressing initiatives for state regulation of the country’s strategic economic sectors and the redistribution of idle farm lands.

It is evident that a majority of Ecuadorians feel the need for a revised constitution, as proven by the initial high approval ratings for the assembly’s formation. However, there is still reason to be concerned about Ecuador’s future stability due to a somewhat one-sided document which places too much power in the hands of the executive branch. At this point, some apprehension exists among the population over such concerns, which could lead to the rejection of the constitution by a majority of Ecuadorians in the September referendum. To slow down any move toward confrontation, what Ecuador really needs is an admirable constitution written by a variegated group of leaders, rather than one that is being accused of political bias and insufficient representation of the public will.