QUITO ( Associated Press) – Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso will measure the groundswell of civilian support he has built for his government in a popular consultation on security issues on Sunday after one year and eight months of managing violence and assassinations.
About 13.5 million Ecuadorians are called to the polls for a mid-term election that will renew 221 mayors and 23 prefects (governors of provinces), as well as municipal councillors, among others.
But the government has included a consultation with eight questions in the electoral call, mainly focused on security—a main concern of citizens—which represents a re-evaluation of sorts to gauge Ecuadorians’ approval of Lasso’s management. represents.
During his term in office, the Ecuadorian president has faced a significant increase in insecurity, with a record number of murders and violence, and has dealt with the majority opposition in parliament and stalled his main legislative reforms.
Ecuador ended last year with a murder record. The 4,539 violent deaths in 2022, according to police counts, are more than double the 2,048 crimes in 2021 and, moreover, they are the highest recorded since 1990, when such statistics began to be recorded. About 300 cases were settled.
The increase in violence and deaths has been concentrated in coastal cities such as Guayaquil, Duran and Esmeraldas where authorities have indicated there are territorial disputes between drug-trafficking gangs.
Three of the eight questions in the popular consultation are related to security, with one proposing reform of the constitution to allow extradition of convicted Ecuadorians, who are needed by other countries in criminal proceedings for drug trafficking or organized crime. it occurs. Ecuador’s constitution currently does not allow citizens to be extradited to serve sentences in other countries.
It is the issue most promoted by the government in an attempt to get a “yes” to the consultation, which appeals to the social context of fear and perception of vulnerability due to the increase in crime.
Given citizens’ disillusionment with politics and institutions, the two questions stem from changes in the functioning of the Citizens’ Participation Council – the body that designates the main controlling authorities such as prosecutors, lawyers or comptrollers – and affect the other two political parties. and the composition of the National Assembly, the institution with the worst percentage of citizen approval.
Finally, there are two other questions related to ecological resources.
If the consultation is approved, the government will have a brief political respite, according to a reflection by analyst and professor at the Andean University, Gustavo Esch, to The Associated Press. Shortly afterwards, he qualifies, “People can be dismayed to see that nothing has changed, that everything remains the same, especially in terms of security”.
Although polls in late January suggest that the referendum result will be in favor of the “yes” vote promoted by the ruling party, there is no guarantee that reforms supported by the ballot box will be immediately reflected in practice, Because it requires the intervention of judicial acts, assemblies or other bodies for its implementation, certainly in the medium and long term.
Luis Espinosa, a professor at the University of San Francisco de Quito, questioned whether the questions raised would “solve the problem of insecurity.” He confirmed to the Associated Press that “we are far from it” because the question of consultation does not refer in any way to other fundamental elements that need to be changed, such as Ecuador’s judicial system, which has judges who are too easily criminals of all calibers, Espinosa was recalled.
The high number of deaths confirms the perception of insecurity among Ecuadorians, which according to studies conducted by various survey firms such as Sedatos-Gallup, Market and Clima Social, is the main concern of the population after unemployment and corruption.
According to the official thesis, the main trigger for violence on the streets of Ecuador is the presence of local drug-trafficking mafias and cartels from other countries, such as Mexico, which vie violently for control of drug distribution routes and territories nationwide and internationally. fight with
The same explanation has been attributed to bloody confrontations in Ecuadorian prisons that intensified in 2021 and led to the deaths of 330 prisoners allegedly murdered at the hands of rival gang members last year alone.
Faced with such a context of aggression, María Cristina Beas, director of the Political Communication Master’s Program at the University of UDLA, acknowledges that “no question can cast a spell and immediately resolve the issues raised.” That takes time in the medium and long term, he tells the Associated Press. But analysts defend that the consultation is a necessary exercise aimed at improving the country’s institutionalisation.
In the event that the people of Ecuador vote “no”, President Lasso will be allowed to live the remainder of his term until May 2025, with fierce protests in the Assembly as well as disapproval expressed in the polls, according to teacher Gustavo Esch. Have to stay. Analysts also highlight the enduring danger of indigenous movements turning into new and violent protests, such as the one that paralyzed the country last year and brought the president close to ousting.
In late June 2021, Lasso, without a majority in the assembly since he began his term, was close to being ousted by the legislative opposition, following 18 days of violent indigenous protests against a hike in gasoline prices . Increase in oil prices.
The president, who rules with only 12 official seats out of 137 seats in the National Assembly, has so far been unable to build a solid and stable coalition in the legislature and his main government projects have been rejected in parliament.
The assembly is dominated by the political movement Union for Hope of former leftist President Rafael Correa (2007–2017), who has campaigned for “no” to popular consultations from outside the country.