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Cablegate: Pro-Govt Congressional Majority Flexes Muscles

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS QUITO 003108

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: PRO-GOVT CONGRESSIONAL MAJORITY FLEXES MUSCLES

REF: QUITO 3081

1. Summary: In a marathon session November 25, the new,
pro-government legislative majority bypassed President of
Congress Guillermo Landazuri's programmed agenda and elected
Jorge Montero second vice president. It then replaced the
members of the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) and the Supreme
Electoral Tribunal (TSE), an attack on the Social Christian
Party, which before had controlled the TC and heavily
influenced TSE decisions. Both moves drew fire from the
now-minority opposition. End Summary.

2. On November 25, the new Congressional majority (SP, PRE,
PRIAN, MPD-PSE, DP and independents) elected Jorge Montero
(CFP) as the second vice president of Congress. The vote
tally showed 55 votes in favor, 32 abstentions and one vote
for another candidate. Montero will hold this post, vacant
for nearly two years, only until January 2005, when all
Congressional leadership positions turn over. This vote
followed the majority's earlier procedural motion to "appeal"
Guillermo Landazuri's leadership of the session, thus
sidelining the Democratic Left (ID) leader and allowing
changes to the day's legislative agenda.

3. Going well past midnight, the new majority revamped the
TC's and TSE's membership. They cited as grounds for the TC
restructuring the fact that in March 2003, its members were
approved in a block, an unconstitutional act. The TC changes
dealt a blow to PSC, which lost control of the institution.
Of the seven members removed (from nine total), five,
including the president, were PSC. The others were from
Pachakutik and ID. PSC-affiliated court members earlier had
ruled against the D'Hondt method of legislative seat
allocations, harming small party representation and earning
it the ire of Ecuador's numerous minority institutions. The
newly elected TC judges will hold their posts until January
2007.

4. During the session, opposition (PSC, ID and Pachakutik)
deputies fought a procedural defense, claiming that a
"political trial", not a resolution, was required to revamp
court membership (the former requires a two-thirds vote, the
latter, only a majority). Sitting TC judges shared this
opinion, claiming there was no legal grounds for removal by
resolution.

5. After the fact, opposition-affiliated politicians and
business leaders protested loudly. Ex-TC President Oswaldo
Cevallos denounced the replacement of TC and TSE members as
illegal, threatening to file complaints with international
human rights courts. Close Embassy contact Luis Fernando
Torres, a PSC deputy, purportedly claimed that Free Trade
Agreement concerns were behind the TC purge (the TC will rule
on its constitutionality), but offered few details. Business
leader Blasco Penaherrera claimed the reorganization was
unconstitutional and akin to a coup d'etat. Labor and the
indigenous differed in opinion, with FEINE, FENOCIN, and FUT
supporting the court putsch.

6. According to media accounts, the new majority also hopes
to elect a new attorney general, comptroller general and
human rights ombudsman, possibly in January 2005. To elect a
new AG, 51 votes are needed, while 67 are needed for the
other two posts. Currently the majority has a base of 54
votes. In its drive to reach 67, the majority hopes soon to
convert Pachakutik, currently controlling 10 votes.

COMMENT
-------

7. The new majority in Congress seems intent on seeking
revenge against the PSC and, to a lesser extent, ID. Parties
of all stripes had railed against the Social Christians for
its alleged control of Ecuador's highest courts. These
latest maneuvers thus come as no surprise. The grounds cited
to purge the TC are dubious, however, as our glance through
Ecuador's constitution shows no distinction between voting on
individuals and candidate slates. But in "pick and choose
the law to apply" Ecuador, this too is no surprise.
KENNEY

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