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Ecuador president proposes constitutional reforms to combat rising crime

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile; JURIST news archive] submitted 10 constitutional referendum questions [text, PDF, in Spanish] on Monday to the Constitutional Court of Ecuador [official website, in Spanish] to certify their legality. The proposed reforms would alter the way judges are chosen, amend a preventative detention law [Reuters report] and revoke measures intended to protect those accused of serious crimes. In addition, the questions probe public support for restricting media companies from owning non-media companies and limiting banking entities to financial services. Opponents have claimed the measures are aimed at solidifying power and quieting dissent [AFP report] and have accused Correa of following the authoritarian model of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. If certified as legal, the questions will go to the Electoral Council for approval. The Constitutional Tribunal, led by Judge Patricio Pazmino, indicated a decision on the legality will be reached within 45 days.

In October, the Ecuadorian government announced it will revise a controversial austerity law following unrest [JURIST report] and a suspected coup attempt in September. Police officers fired tear gas at Correa, surrounded the hospital at which he was being treated and trapped him there for 12 hours while protesting the Public Service Law [text, PDF, in Spanish], which they feared would reduce their pay and benefits. In September 2008, Ecuadorian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution [JURIST report] that consolidated and significantly expanded the powers held by Correa, including the power to dissolve the legislature and pass laws by decree. The special assembly charged with rewriting the constitution provisionally approved [JURIST report] the document in July 2008. The success of Correa's referendum fulfilled his pledge to rewrite the country's constitution after his coalition's landslide victory [JURIST report] in October 2007. Critics characterized the 444-article constitution as giving the president too much control over the economy and the judiciary.

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