BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CN) — Ecuador has voted to reject all eight proposals put forward by President Guillermo Lasso in a referendum that would have amended the constitution, while the main opposition Citizen Revolution Movement picked up major wins in local elections.
The referendum proposals included reducing the number of lawmakers in the National Assembly from 137 to around 100, as well as allowing the extradition of Ecuadorians accused of international organized crime.
The president’s referendum defeat came as a surprise, with polls registering broad support for the reforms leading up to the vote on Sunday, Feb. 5. The main opposition parties, the socialist Citizen Revolution Movement and the left-wing Pachakutik indigenous movement, had supported the "No" campaign.
Lasso accepted defeat on Feb 6. with around 70% of the votes counted. “I accept that the majority doesn’t agree that these issues would be resolved with the tools put forward in the referendum,” the president said in a televised address. “But I believe that we Ecuadorians should have a broad and serious debate, without dogmas or ideologies, about how to face the threat that drug trafficking and its links to sectors of politics represent today.”
The referendum and local election results are a double blow to the conservative president, who has been battling nationwide discontent with his administration — both in the National Assembly and on the streets. Mass protests swept the country in June 2022, led by CONAIE, the country’s largest indigenous rights organization. It was triggered by rising food and fuel prices, as students and labor unions later joined the protests. The president narrowly survived an impeachment attempt by the National Assembly.
Ecuador is also experiencing historic levels of gang-related violence. The murder rate soared from 5.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016 to 19.6 in 2022 — the highest level recorded in the country — while violence inside prisons has become widespread.
President Lasso had argued that the proposals would help combat the escalation in violence. Critics and the opposition claim that the president had used the referendum to try and boost his political support.
Ecuadorians also voted in local elections, with the main opposition party, the Citizen Revolution Movement, picking up key mayoral wins in the capital city of Quito and the country’s largest city, Guayaquil.
“It’s a historic victory,” said a press statement by the Citizen Revolution Movement. “We’re ending the hegemony of the right. A new epoch begins to recover Ecuador.”
The Citizen Revolution Movement is led by former president Rafael Correa, who served three terms between 2007 and 2017 and oversaw the constituent assembly that wrote the new national constitution that came into effect in 2008 after a referendum.
Correa moved to Belgium after his presidency and in 2018, he refused a judge’s order to return to face bribery charges. He was tried in absentia in 2020 and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Correa denies all charges.
Interpol has rejected three attempts by the Ecuadorian Court of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against Correa, questioning the integrity of the information sent by the court.
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