Quito: Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly, or parliament, by decree amid an impeachment process against him.
Lasso made the announcement on Wednesday, citing a constitutional mechanism, known as “muerte cruzada” (mutual death), that allows the President to dissolve the National Assembly, call general elections and rule by decree for six months, reports Xinhua news agency.
The mechanism was introduced in 2008 and has never been used in Ecuador before.
It is seen as an extreme measure and is expected to trigger protests from opposition groups.
Lasso however, argued it was necessary “due to a grave political crisis and internal commotion”.
The President accused the opposition-controlled National Assembly of obstructing reform.
He said it was impossible to “solve the problems of Ecuadorean families… when there is a National Assembly whose political mission it is to destabilise democracy”.
Also on Wednesday, military personnel were deployed inside and outside the National Assembly headquarters in the capital Quito, as metal fences were put in place.
Legislators who were inside the building were removed while others were prevented from entering, according to National Assembly communications staff.
Interior Minister Juan Zapata arrived at the scene to ensure compliance with the decree and reinforce security in case of possible violence.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador condemned the decision to dissolve the National Assembly, and announced an “extraordinary council” to analyse the situation and decide what its next steps will be.
The impeachment proceedings against Lasso opened in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The 67-year-old former banker, is accused by the opposition of embezzling funds through a contract signed between state-owned oil tanker fleet Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and the privately-owned company Amazonas Tanker, for the rental of vessels to ship hydrocarbons.
The contract was signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020, before he took office in May 2021.
But his opponents claimed he allowed the business arrangement to continue despite knowing it meant losses for the state.
Lasso argued in his defence and accused the opposition of making the “absurd accusation” to create instability.
This is the first time in Ecuador’s 44 years as a democracy that a President has faced possible ouster by the legislative branch.
The vote on impeachment could take place as early as May 20.
Impeachment requires the votes of two-thirds of the 137-member Assembly, or 92 lawmakers.
The trial has gripped the nation, which went through a period of political upheaval between August 1996 and January 2007, when Ecuador was governed by seven presidents with three of them being overthrown.
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