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Cablegate: Early Elections Require Constitutional Change

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

UNCLAS QUITO 000883

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM EC
SUBJECT: EARLY ELECTIONS REQUIRE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

REF: A. QUITO 881

B. QUITO 874

1. SUMMARY: Numerous Ecuadorians consider Alfredo Palacio
an interim president and are demanding that he call early
elections. The constitution does not contemplate such a
move, however. Reforming Ecuador's supreme law requires
either a two-thirds majority of Congress or a successful
referendum. Nevertheless, if Palacio wants early elections,
we'd bet he gets them. END SUMMARY.

2. Emboldened by their success in taking down ex-President
Lucio Gutierrez April 20, a wide range of Ecuadorians --
street protesters, TV commentators, even provincial
politicians -- are demanding that President Palacio preside
over a caretaker government while simultaneously calling for
immediate elections. In his first press conference as chief
executive, Palacio voiced opposition to such a move, claiming
it played into the hands of establishment politicians hungry
to fill the vacuum Gutierrez left (Ref B). Palacio claimed
he would heed the public's call if it proved overwhelming,
however.

3. Ecuador enjoys a purely presidential (as opposed to
parliamentary) form of government. Dissolving Congress is
not contemplated under the constitution, for example, nor is
calling early elections. Article 164 states that the
president's term, which lasts four years, commences on the
January 15th following the election (which normally takes
place in October or November). No other articles deal
specifically with election timing.

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4. Poloff April 21 spoke with Jose Gabriel Teran, the
octogenarian head of international relations at the Supreme
Electoral Tribunal and perhaps Ecuador's foremost election
expert. Teran agreed the constitution did not contemplate
early elections. To call them legally, Teran continued, the
sponsor would first need a constitutional amendment. Article
280 outlines the process, noting the constitution may be
changed in two manners. In the first, Congress may pass a
constitutional reform law; a two-thirds majority is required,
and one year must pass between first and second plenary
debates. The second requires the president to submit the
proposed amendment to a referendum after first consulting
Congress. Past history shows the referendum option, while
quicker than the reform law, would still require at least
three months, anathema to those seeking immediate change.

5. COMMENT: As noted in Ref A, Ecuadorian politicians enjoy
great freedom in interpreting their constitution as
circumstances demand. Should pressures mount on Palacio to
call immediate elections, we doubt legal provisions will keep
him from doing so.
KENNEY

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