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Cablegate: President Gutierrez Calls Congress Back to Debate

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

UNCLAS QUITO 003167

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT GUTIERREZ CALLS CONGRESS BACK TO DEBATE
COURT REFORM

REF: QUITO 3108

1. (SBU) On December 5, in a surprise exercise of
constitutional privilege, President Gutierrez canceled his
planned trip to Peru and called Congress back from recess
into extraordinary session on December 8. In so doing he
requested that they consider three issues: 1) the censure of
recently expelled members of the constitutional court; 2) the
constitutionality of the current composition of the Supreme
Court; and 3) the system for division of provincial and
municipal council seats among minority parties. The move has
generated controversy within the government's "progressive
alliance" (for not being consulted), and among the
opposition. Both sides were meeting today to define strategy
for the session. Gutierrez appears intent on exploiting his
alliance to purge the courts of opposition manipulation, and
willing to invoke dubious constitutional arguments to justify
the move. End Summary.

2. (U) Gutierrez convoked the Special session after a
Pichincha court ruled on December 3 in favor of an injunction
request to suspend Congress' November 25 Congressional
resolution replacing members of the Constitutional Court. A
government legal advisor later asserted that the review of
the current composition of the Supreme Court derives from the
fact that the current court was selected under the previous
constitution. The 1998 constitution called for transitional
appointments to end on January 1, 2003. Gutierrez also
publicly accused Supreme Court President Hugo Quintana of
lobbying the local judge to accept the injunction request,
from two former CC magistrates affiliated with the main
opposition Social Christian Party.

3. (SBU) Gutierrez had given no hint of the surprise move in
a meeting with the Ambassador and DCM on December 2,
expressing respect for the Constitution and anticipation of
his visit to Peru for the creation of the Community of South
American nations.

4. (U) On December 4 the provincial judge ruled in favor of
suspension of the Congressional measure replacing most
members of the Constitutional Court, putting the legality of
the move into question.

5. (U) The "progressive alliance," which includes President
Gutierrez' Patriotic Society Party, had approved the law
replacing seven of nine Constitutional Court judges on
November 25, with a simple majority of 55 votes (RefTel).
The coalition also includes the PRE, PRIAN, MPD, DP,
Socialist Party, CFP, and numerous independent deputies.
Some members of the alliance publicly expressed pique at not
being consulted by the President before he made the surprise
announcement.

6. (U) Opposition leaders in the PSC and ID denounced the
President's proposed agenda as "dictatorial" and
unconstitutional and met on December 7 to discuss their
opposition strategy. ID leader Guillermo Landazuri said the
ID would boycott the session, but has apparently changed tact
and will now attend. PSC leader Febres-Cordero launched a
media blitz criticizing the move and alleging evidence of new
corruption within the government. He said the PSC would
attend the session to oppose the President's agenda.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) The President's decision to call a special session
came during speculation that Congress President Landazuri was
himself considering calling Congress back to discuss issues
which divide the alliance. This and the injunction appear to
have spurred the Administration to seize the initiative and
seek to exploit its current alliance to purge the courts of
PSC control. Given the fragility of the alliance and the
thin constitutional justification for interference with the
courts, the government may find it difficult to pass
substantial court reform, even with a simple majority.
Electoral reform and the censure motion against the dismissed
constitutional judges are more likely to prosper. All
members of the alliance voted for the replacement of the
judges and want to cover their legal flank; all are also
minority parties which suffered from the constitutional
court's rejection of the prior method to boost minority
representation on city and provincial councils.
KENNEY

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