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Lasso’s last card: dissolving Parliament

Faced with the threat of impeachment, the President of the Republic also has a possibility: to dissolve the Parliament.

Thus, the opposition to the Ecuadorian government (led by the Citizen Revolution bloc of former President Rafael Correa and accompanied by the Social Christian Party of the former mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot, and by some separate legislators of the Plurinational Unity Movement Pachakutik and the Democratic Left, as well as other independents) comprehends more than 80 legislators out of a total of 137. With it, it would be far from a few votes to obtain the 91 needed to remove President Guillermo Lasso from office.

In order to avoid this type of imbalance and to give a constitutional tool to the President of the Republic, the 2008 Constitution, inspired by the socialism of the 21st century, introduced a willingness to dissolve the National Assembly “if it repeatedly and unjustifiably obstructs the execution of the National Development Plan, or due to serious political crisis and internal commotion”. This measure is what is known by public opinion as “cross death”.

In this case, the president could govern for a few months by issuing economic decrees with the force of law to be approved by the Constitutional Court until new general, presidential, and legislative elections are held, the results proclaimed and the handover of power takes place.

The peaceful cohabitation between the Executive and the Legislative was short-lived after the inauguration of the President of Ecuador in May 2021. Guadalupe Llori, from Pachakutik, took office as president of the Legislative and swore in Lasso, but on May 31, 2022, she was dismissed by a new majority. In that year, Ecuador’s president tried to push forward his reform agenda, but was hampered by a weak coalition and a frenzied opposition, which was on the rise and grew strong with impeachments of ministers and public scandals. This maneuver weakened the stability of the cabinet of ministers and soon erupted into protests that besieged Quito for nearly three consecutive weeks in June 2022.

Faced with a rural organization, which is under permanent threat of mobilization, and a legislative opposition, whose agenda is to paralyze the representative powers, Lasso today faces impeachment and the possibility of a forced interruption of his mandate. Is it possible to think of a parliamentary dissolution?

Parliamentary dissolution or “cross death” has no institutional antecedents in Ecuador. However, the political trials against Vice President Alberto Dahik in 1995 and presidents Abdalá Bucaram in 1997, Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005 were characterized by irregularities that eventually convinced the 2008 constituents to introduce this tool in case Rafael Correa, president at the time, found himself in an adverse legislative situation. Apparently, an attempt was made to export a parliamentary institution to a presidential system.

For Arthur Lupia and Kaare Strøm of the University of California (San Diego, USA) in their famous paper “Coalition termination and the strategic timing of parliamentary elections”, published in 1995, “a supportive coalition crisis could produce any of a number of possible outcomes. In some cases, it may simply end in a cabinet reshuffle or a renegotiation of the terms of the coalition among its members. New coalitions may also be formed between parties that were not previously partners. But the extreme solution is to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. In such a situation, parties represented in Parliament often calculate the consequences of dissolution in the shadow of elections and electoral expectations.”

This suggests that the first possibility for President Lasso’s government should be to reconstitute the coalition that allowed him to have a favorable majority during the first year of government. But it should be done under the current institutional arrangements of the National Assembly, in order to try to get the individual support of the legislators of the parties of the tendency and assuming a position open to negotiation. President Lasso should have the dissolution decree in his pocket if this attempt fails.

However, the main pitfall of the Ecuadorian legislature is its polarized and fragmented configuration. According to experts Gary King, James Alt and Nancy Burns, of Harvard University, in their paper “A unified model of cabinet dissolution in parliamentary democracies”, published in 1990, fragmentation is an indicator that characterizes the number and the size of political parties in the legislature. A higher value of fragmentation indicates a greater distribution of relatively small blocs. According to this indicator, the term of a cabinet is shorter because of the instability produced by the pressures of small legislative blocs. In addition, polarization is a measure of identification of extremist parties that also contribute to the short duration due to their reluctance to dialogue.

There are 10 parties and 15 independent legislators or legislators belonging to sub-national movements in the Ecuadorian Legislative. Therefore, there are around twenty parties, of which the two main opposition parties have communicated their refusal to any reconciliation with the Government. In this scenario, the solution for the Government is to seek the fracture of the polarized or extremist parties and, ultimately, as a last resort, to plan a strategic legislative dissolution.

Kaare Strøm of the University of California and Stephen Swindle of Southeast Missouri State University stated in their paper “Strategic Parliamentary Dissolution”, published in 2002, that if the head of state plays an insignificant role, if the Parliament or the Executive cannot prevent dissolution, if a minority government is in power, or if the head of state can decree such a dissolution unilaterally, then it is only a matter of time.

In parliamentary systems, heads of government call elections when they expect to win them and the dissolution of Parliament is even more common when a government has a large support that allows them to be reelected, to influence a related legislative majority and to reshape the political scenario. Does the president of Ecuador have this?

If the government of Guillermo Lasso is not able to reach a new party consensus in the next few days that will allow him to conclude his term in office, he has one last card left. He can dissolve the legislature and govern by decree, reconstitute the political subject that brought him to power at the polls, and will have to satisfy in a few months the most urgent demands of the middle and popular classes that were the ones that propelled him to Carondelet. Will he do it?

*Translated from Spanish by Camille Henry


Politólogo y abogado. Profesor de la Universidad de las Américas (Quito). Master en Ciencia Política y Gobierno por FLACSO-Ecuador.


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