QUITO, Ecuador — A standoff between Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso and the opposition-led National Assembly could result in the expulsion of either party this week as lawmakers seek to try him for embezzlement and he considers exercising his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature.
Lawmakers will continue impeachment proceedings against the right-wing politician on Tuesday during a session of the unicameral assembly that Lasso is expected to attend.
Political tensions have risen in Ecuador since Lasso, a former banker, was elected in 2021 and clashed from the start with strong opposition in the Assembly. At the same time, the South American country has experienced a rise in drug-related violence, including several prison massacres in the past two years.
Whatever happens this week, the general instability of the country will undoubtedly deepen.
“The removal of the president, being an institutional earthquake in any democracy, will be an event that will shake the country’s political scene,” said Laura Lizarazo, a senior analyst covering Ecuador and Colombia for global firm Control Risks.
This is the second time the opposition has tried to impeach Lasso, but last year it didn’t get enough votes.
Tuesday’s session could extend into Wednesday as it will feature hours of arguments from Lasso’s accusers and defense and 10-minute comments from any of the 137 lawmakers who wish to speak on the politically charged case.
The opposition is widely expected to reach the 92 votes needed to remove Lasso after the debate, but it is unclear exactly when within the next five days Assembly leaders will schedule a vote on the measure, though lawmakers have signaled it could happen on Saturday. It is also unknown if Lasso will choose to dissolve the legislature to keep his position and rule by decree until presidential and legislative elections are scheduled.
Lawmakers accuse Lasso of failing to intervene to terminate a contract between the state oil transport company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and the private entity Amazonas Tankers. The accusers argue that Lasso knew that the contract was full of irregularities and cost the state millions in losses.
But lawmakers have offered no proof so far. Lasso, who has denied the accusations, told the foreign press in April that he would not hesitate to dissolve the Assembly if his removal was imminent.
“We anticipate that the progressive deterioration in security that Ecuador has experienced in the last year will persist, as well as the high levels of dissatisfaction of the population who feel that the democratic institutions, both the Assembly and the Executive, are totally disconnected from their most urgent needs, which have to do with unemployment, violence, levels of extortion by organized crime and unprecedented petty crime,” said Lizarazo.
Impeachment proceedings are separate from criminal investigations. The Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office has opened a preliminary investigation, but Lasso has not been criminally charged.
Constitutional lawyer André Benavides said the accusations against Lasso do not fit into a case of embezzlement because the damage to the state or the supposed personal benefit of the president have not been established.
“In this case there is no trace of money, it does not exist,” said Benavides.
The Organization of American States urged legislators on Monday to «offer all the guarantees of justice and respect the rules of due process» during this week’s proceedings.