© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso speaks during a press conference with Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves (not pictured) in San José, Costa Rica. March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mayela Lopez
By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) -Ecuador’s National Assembly on Tuesday began an impeachment hearing against President Guillermo Lasso, who could be removed from his post, though the process increases the likelihood he will dissolve the legislature to avoid a final vote.
Ninety-two votes from the 137-member assembly are needed to remove Lasso, who opposition politicians say disregarded warnings of embezzlement related to a contract at state-owned oil transportation company Flopec.
Lasso denies the accusation, saying his administration made changes to the contract – which was signed years before he took office – to benefit the state, on advice from Ecuador’s comptroller.
The opposition, including members of the party of ex-President Rafael Correa – himself accused of corruption – has been invigorated following the re-election of Virgilio Saquicela as president of the National Assembly on Sunday.
“The Ecuadorean people want Guillermo Lasso (…) to go home,” said opposition lawmaker Viviana Veloz while presenting a motion to vote on the censure and dismissal of the president.
Veloz and another opposition lawmaker presented the case against Lasso, who will defend himself. The final vote is expected to take place on Saturday at the latest.
To avoid impeachment, Lasso could call for the so-called “two-way death,” a constitutional quirk that allows Ecuadorean presidents to call early elections for both their office and the National Assembly under certain circumstances, such as when the legislature blocks the functioning of government.
“That option has always been under consideration and it’s available, and the decision is up to the president,” Juan Pablo Ortiz, legal secretary of the presidency, told a local digital media outlet on Monday.
If Lasso is removed from office he will be replaced by Vice President Alfredo Borrero.
If Lasso instead opts to dissolve the assembly, he will govern with laws issued via decree until new elections are called, according to Ecuador’s constitution.
Hundreds of Lasso’s supporters took to the streets surrounding the assembly.
CONAIE, Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, backed the measure to remove Lasso in a statement, saying that “with Guillermo Lasso Ecuador doesn’t have a future, only fear and uncertainty.”
Ecuador’s electoral court must decide on a date for new elections within seven days of the assembly’s dissolution.
The assembly voted to continue with the impeachment process last Tuesday with 88 votes in favor out of 116 legislators present.
Some lawmakers have said any dissolution would be unconstitutional and would refuse to comply. The government and its allies have questioned the legality of the impeachment process.
This story originally appeared on Investing