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13/12/2004 | Ecuador: The Supreme Court and Presidential Politics

De Nuestra Redacción

Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez has engineered a political coup against the Supreme Court to save himself from being impeached by his opponents in Congress. The coup -- at the hands of a congressional coalition the president patched together -- will prevent him from being impeached, but the coalition quickly could desert him. In the near term, however, Gutierrez has bought more time for his unpopular government, and perhaps given himself new opportunities to forge political coalitions to keep him in power until the 2007 elections.

 

Analysis
Ecuador's ruling elites are locked in a power struggle in which the presidency is the ultimate prize. The struggle pits President Lucio Gutierrez, former President Abdala Bucaram, and billionaire banana exporter Alvaro Noboa against former President Leon Febres Cordero, leader of the opposition Social Christian Party (PSC). Indigenous leaders with the Confederation of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities have declared their neutrality in this fight between elites.

Overnight on Dec. 8-9, Gutierrez and a coalition of six small political parties used Congress to fire 27 of the Supreme Court's 31 members and replace them with judges allied with the parties. Gutierrez said the shakeup was necessary to protect Ecuador's democracy and prevent a handful of corrupt political elites and crooked bankers from engineering a constitutional coup against his government through fraudulent impeachment proceedings. In fact, Gutierrez engineered a political coup against the Supreme Court before his foes in Congress could engineer a political coup against him with an impeachment vote the Supreme Court likely would have upheld, because the opposition PSC and Popular Democracy (DP) parties controlled the high court politically.

Gutierrez and his congressional allies insist they acted democratically. However, independent political analysts consulted in Quito and Guayaquil agree the act was illegal and unconstitutional. There are no provisions in Ecuador's Constitution or legislation governing the judicial system that allow the dismissal of Supreme Court justices from the bench through congressional resolutions supported by a simple majority of Congress' 100 members. High court justices can be replaced when they die or their terms end, or if they are impeached by two-thirds of Congress for corruption or other malfeasance while on the bench.

Gutierrez has gained immunity from impeachment by Congress -- at least for now. The political parties that supported his coup against the high court do not like Gutierrez, nor do they support him. They backed his play because he promised them a political share of the judicial pie. For example, Noboa's National Action Institutional Renewal Party (PRIAN) and Bucaram's Ecuadorian Roldosist Party (PRE) -- neither of which had representation on the court -- now have at least five judges between them, and as many as nine if some who claim to be independents are included. The parties now control the Supreme Court's two penal courts, where corruption cases against Bucaram and several leading bankers are being heard.

This means it is likely -- if the president's action is not reversed in the near future -- the cases against Bucaram and many high-profile Ecuadorian banks could be dismissed quickly or resolved through acquittals. Stratfor believes that, for political reasons, Gutierrez will try to stall any resolution of Bucaram's case. However, he likely will move quickly to resolve the cases against the bankers because he needs the political support of traditional financial groups to strengthen his presidency's political bases.

If Gutierrez is successful, he would add the traditional business elites controlling the banking industry to his support base, which already includes the armed forces because Gutierrez has brought many officers into government posts and has turned a blind eye to alleged corruption involving military officers in both government and active military commands.

Other political parties that gained political positions on the Supreme Court include the Democratic People's Movement, the Popular Democracy Party, the Socialist Party of Ecuador (PSE) and the Concentration of Popular Forces. The PSC has only one sympathizer left in the court. The new Supreme Court will not be less corrupt or politicized than its predecessor. Rather, Gutierrez and his political allies now have more political clout in the court and can seek to influence its decisions in their favor.

Gutierrez and the PSC were allies until the government's Guaranteed Deposit Agency seized $12 million in assets belonging to a business group owned by Febres Cordero's brother. Febres Cordero retaliated by ordering the PSC to seek Gutierrez's impeachment in Congress after recent regional elections in which Gutierrez's party, the Patriotic Society Party, fared very poorly with voters. It is likely that Febres Cordero also sought to combine revenge with his political ambitions to regain the presidency of Ecuador.

Gutierrez is allied with Noboa and Bucaram. However, the leaders of the PRIAN and PRE have opposed Gutierrez in the past and likely would still welcome a change of government before the country's next scheduled elections in 2007. Late Dec. 12, it appeared that Gutierrez was maneuvering to increase his political control over the Supreme Court to pre-empt the possibility that his new political allies in Congress could desert him in the near future. The new justices were "only temporary," he said, hinting that the government will try to install permanent judges that are firmly pro-government or independent sympathizers of the president.

However, the harder Gutierrez pushes to gain absolute control over the court, the more likely it becomes that he will lose political support in Congress among the small parties because any political gain by the president likely would mean the loss of newly acquired judicial influence by smaller parties.

Stratfor believes it is likely that bankers on trial for corruption could remain aligned with Gutierrez if they win acquittals or dismissals. However, this support might not hold up over time. Since the PRIAN and PRE have a presence on the high court, it is likely that bankers also will find themselves in debt politically to Noboa and Bucaram, neither of whom like Gutierrez personally or politically.

Gutierrez also could soon find himself at odds with the PRE, which likely will use its new influence in the Supreme Court to seek Bucaram's acquittal on corruption-related charges. Bucaram needs an acquittal before he can return to Ecuador from exile in Panama and position himself for a shot at the presidency in 2007, if not sooner. Of course, this plan will only work if Gutierrez does not betray his new allies and attempt to block Bucaram's acquittal with a new set of judges -- to avoid having to face him in the political arena. Stratfor believes it is likely that Gutierrez will betray Bucaram as he has betrayed other former allies since becoming president.

While he was president of Ecuador, Bucaram -- also known as "El Loco," or "the Crazy One" -- was popular with many Ecuadorians, particularly working class and lower income voters who subsequently backed Gutierrez in the 2002 elections. If Bucaram returns he could undermine what little support Gutierrez still has among these groups of voters.

The support of Noboa and traditional private business groups will last as long as the economy is doing well and Gutierrez does not implement any policy that threatens long-established oligopolies and corporate profits. However, the coming days and weeks will be a critical period for Gutierrez. Coastal business interests based in Guayaquil, where Febres Cordero and the PSC traditionally have been dominant, are challenging his dismissal of the court and have threatened a national business strike. The country's major news media in Quito and Guayaquil also are editorializing against Gutierrez. However, indigenous and labor union leaders until now have remained neutral, which means Gutierrez is not at imminent risk of massive street protests that could force the military to intervene to restore order.

If protesters do not rise up against Gutierrez in the coming days, he likely has a good chance of winning this battle. However, political alliances tend to be short-lived in Ecuador. The PSC supported Gutierrez until very recently, while the PRIAN and PRE were among the president's top foes. Now these roles have been reversed -- but likely not for long. The president's political allies probably will abandon Gutierrez as soon as it is politically convenient.

Offnews.info (Argentina)

 



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31/10/2005|
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14/05/2005|
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12/05/2005|
10/05/2005|
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29/04/2005|
29/04/2005|
28/04/2005|
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10/04/2005|
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30/03/2005|
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30/03/2005|
30/03/2005|
27/03/2005|
27/03/2005|
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26/03/2005|
26/03/2005|
23/03/2005|
23/03/2005|
18/03/2005|
18/03/2005|
08/03/2005|
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03/03/2005|
03/03/2005|
28/02/2005|
28/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
27/02/2005|
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26/02/2005|
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01/02/2005|
01/02/2005|
31/01/2005|
31/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
30/01/2005|
29/01/2005|
29/01/2005|
27/01/2005|
27/01/2005|
27/01/2005|
27/01/2005|
26/01/2005|
26/01/2005|
15/01/2005|
15/01/2005|
15/01/2005|
15/01/2005|
12/01/2005|
12/01/2005|
09/01/2005|
09/01/2005|
09/01/2005|
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09/01/2005|
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09/01/2005|
09/01/2005|
07/01/2005|
07/01/2005|
05/01/2005|
05/01/2005|
04/01/2005|
04/01/2005|
27/12/2004|
27/12/2004|
27/12/2004|
27/12/2004|
27/12/2004|
25/12/2004|
25/12/2004|
19/12/2004|
19/12/2004|
19/12/2004|
19/12/2004|
19/12/2004|
18/12/2004|
18/12/2004|
12/12/2004|
12/12/2004|
08/12/2004|
08/12/2004|
06/12/2004|
06/12/2004|
06/12/2004|
06/12/2004|
06/12/2004|
05/12/2004|
05/12/2004|
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04/12/2004|
04/12/2004|
04/12/2004|
02/12/2004|
02/12/2004|
29/11/2004|
28/11/2004|
28/11/2004|
28/11/2004|
28/11/2004|
28/11/2004|
19/11/2004|
19/11/2004|
18/11/2004|
18/11/2004|
12/10/2004|
10/10/2004|
10/10/2004|
03/10/2004|
24/08/2004|
24/08/2004|
14/08/2004|
14/08/2004|
26/04/2004|
26/04/2004|
11/04/2004|
11/04/2004|
04/02/2004|
04/02/2004|
10/12/2003|
10/12/2003|
05/11/2003|
05/11/2003|
10/10/2003|
06/10/2003|
01/08/2003|
01/08/2003|
28/07/2003|
28/07/2003|
28/07/2003|
28/07/2003|
23/07/2003|
09/07/2003|
24/06/2003|
24/06/2003|
18/06/2003|
18/06/2003|
03/06/2003|
01/06/2003|
17/03/2003|
17/03/2003|
22/02/2003|
22/02/2003|
23/01/2003|
23/01/2003|
15/01/2003|
01/01/2003|
01/01/2003|
01/01/2003|
01/01/2003|
01/08/2002|
01/08/2002|
01/08/2002|
01/08/2002|
19/07/2002|
19/07/2002|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House