Impeachment hearing begins in Ecuador against President Lasso

Lasso could trigger the ‘two-way death’ clause in Ecuador’s constitution, dissolving both the legislature and ending his presidency.

Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso addresses the National Assembly
Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso is facing his second impeachment proceedings since taking office in 2021 [Dolores Ochoa/The Associated Press]

Ecuador’s National Assembly has begun an impeachment hearing against President Guillermo Lasso, who stands accused of corruption with regard to an embezzlement scheme involving a state-owned oil transport company.

But the hearings, which launched on Tuesday, could trigger a potentially explosive showdown between the president and the country’s unicameral legislature.

Experts have speculated that Lasso could invoke a never-before-used constitutional clause known as “two-way death”, which would allow him to both dissolve the legislature and end his presidency.

Speaking to the legislators on Tuesday, Lasso maintained he was guilty of no wrongdoing. “There is no evidence, nor relevant testimonies,” he told the lawmakers. “Rather, all there is is information that proves my total, evident and unquestionable innocence.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ana Belen, a member of Lasso’s Creating Opportunities party, called Tuesday’s proceedings, if successful, “nothing short of a parliamentarian coup”.

But members of the opposition have rejected such accusations, calling instead for an end to government corruption.

“This is no coup. We’re not trying to destabilise the country,” Viviana Veloz, an opposition member of the assembly, told Al Jazeera. “It is a response to a demand by citizens, a desperate clamour for a constitutional solution to a problem called Guillermo Lasso.”

At issue in Tuesday’s hearing was Lasso’s decision not to intervene to end an embezzlement scheme between the state-owned oil transport company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and the private entity Amazonas Tankers.

Opponents say the scheme cost the state millions in losses and is part of a pattern of corruption within the administration.

Lasso has denied the allegations, with his supporters saying the president had no responsibility to intervene in the deal between the two companies, which had been struck before he took office in 2021.

“Remember that this contract was signed in 2018 by the previous government,” Belen told Al Jazeera. “Investigators have found no penal responsibility, so there can’t be a political one.”

Lasso has previously hinted that he could trigger the “muerte cruzada” or “two-way death” clause of Ecuador’s constitution if he appears to be on the cusp of impeachment, according to Al Jazeera correspondent Alessandro Rampietti, who reported from the capital Quito.

That decision could happen any time before the vote, Rampietti added.

Such a move would mean Lasso is declaring “the situation in the country is so complicated that governing is not an option anymore”, he said.

“That would mean essentially dissolving Congress, also the end of his presidency and calling for early elections. But he would then have the opportunity to continue governing by decree for the next six months.”

“It has never been done before in Ecuador,” Rampietti explained. “It’s considered an extreme political decision.”

Analysts fear such a move could spark protests similar to those that broke out last year over the rising cost of living. Further instability would rock a country already contending with deteriorating economic conditions and a tide of drug-related killings.

For its part, the opposition believes it has the supermajority needed to succeed in its impeachment attempt. A supermajority is reached with 92 votes out of the 137-person chamber — in other words, a two-thirds majority.

Lasso, a 67-year-old former banker, narrowly survived an impeachment vote last year, with only 80 legislators voting in favour.

Opinions were divided on the streets of Quito, where some citizens spoke in support of Lasso’s impeachment.

“The Congress is representing the will of the people. This government has only destroyed our health and education systems,” Carla Araujo told Al Jazeera.

Others, meanwhile, felt Lasso deserved to serve out his term in office.

“The people, 18 million Ecuadorians, voted, and he won a majority,” Fidel Lopez, another Quito resident, said. “We should let him finish his work.”

On Monday, the Organization of American States also weighed in, calling on Ecuadorian legislators to “offer all the guarantees of justice and respect the rules of due process” during the impeachment proceedings.

Source: Al Jazeera