Ecuador Constitutional Background

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Ecuador - Constitutional Background

Constitutional background

The tension between civilian and clerical authority dominated Ecuador's constitutional history for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This issue provided one of the bases for the lasting dispute between Conservatives, who represented primarily the interests of the Sierra and the church, and the Liberals, who represented those of the Costa and anticlericalism.

Ecuador's first constitution of 1830, when the country seceded from the Confederation of Gran Colombia, followed the precedents of other independence documents: the Quito State Charter (1812) and the Gran Colombia constitutions of Cúcuta (1821) and Bogotá (1830). The Quito State Charter, framed before independence, called for a unicameral legislature and a popular and representative state established through indirect elections by its citizens. The term "popular," however, meant in practice participation by only wealthy and influential persons. Succeeding constitutions clearly defined the stringent property, professional, and literacy requirements for citizenship and distinguished between citizens and Ecuadorians. Only a small, white-male minority (initially those over twenty-one years of age) met these requirements and therefore enjoyed the impressive rights guaranteed under these and other nineteenth- century constitutions.

Ecuador's first constitution as a republic, that of 1830, also became known as the Floreana constitution, after the new nation's first president, General Juan José Flores (1830-45). It established a unitary and centralized presidential system of government, and separation of powers, with the executive power predominating in practice. The 1830 constitution also established a unicameral congress, elected by indirect suffrage and made up of an equal number (ten) of deputies from each of the three districts--Quito, Azuay, and Guayaquil--and a Council of State to assist the executive in administering the government and to substitute for Congress during the recess.

The five constitutions framed between 1830 and 1852 had much in common. Voting was made indirect, through electors, in both congressional and presidential elections. The presidential term was four years, with the exception of the 1843 constitution (the so- called "Slavery Charter"), which provided for an eight-year term. The 1843 constitution also recognized Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Only the constitutions of 1830 and 1851, however, provided for a unicameral legislature; the others established a bicameral congress, composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The 1843 constitution also made an exception to indirect congressional elections by extending popular suffrage to the election of senators. The 1845 constitution declared that sovereignty resides in the people, although it extended suffrage only to all male citizens.

The constitution of 1861, promulgated by President Gabriel García Moreno (1859-75), eliminated the financial requirements for citizenship and the franchise; introduced direct and secret suffrage for electing all members of a bicameral Congress, the president and vice president of the republic, and the provincial authorities; and established proportional representation for Ecuador's provinces in the Chamber of Deputies (each province elected two senators). These innovations made the 1861 constitution the most representative in Ecuador's constitutional evolution in the nineteenth century. It also reintroduced the strong presidency, whose chief executive was elected by "universal suffrage" for a four-year term. Although it retained Roman Catholicism as the only legal religion, the 1861 constitution guaranteed free expression of thought.

Nearly all of the constitutions prohibited the immediate reelection of the president, but this provision was often violated in spirit. Despite a strong sentiment against long-term monopoly of the presidency, generals Flores, García, and Eloy Alfaro (1895- 1912) managed to rule behind the scenes between their terms of office. In 1869 García, a conservative, intensely devout Catholic, promulgated a more authoritarian constitution, referred to as the Garciana constitution or Carta Negra (the Black Charter), which extended the presidential term to six years. It introduced the religious factor into politics by making membership in the Roman Catholic Church a requisite for citizenship, and it also required being at least twenty-one years of age, married, and able to read and write. The 1884 Elections Law, however, eliminated the requirement of being Catholic in order to be a citizen.

The Liberal period from 1895 to 1925 had two constitutions, those of 1897 and 1906. The first, promulgated by General José Eloy Alfaro Delgado, prohibited religious orders, abolished privileges of the Catholic Church, and reduced the male voting age to eighteen (or marital status). The second, the country's twelfth and most durable charter, provided unprecedented protection of civil and political rights and guarantees, including abolition of the death penalty, introduced new individual freedoms, and prohibited arbitrary imprisonment for debts. It also established the separation of the church and state and strengthened the Council of State. The 1906 Elections Law gave women the right for the first time to participate in political and administrative life.

The 1929 constitution combined quasicorporate features drawn from many different models. Described as a semiparliamentary charter, it reorganized the Senate into a body consisting of fifteen senators elected to represent specific interest groups. Ecuadorian judicial scholar Hernán Salgado Pesantes notes that the 1929 constitution was the only one that weakened presidential powers by, for example, disallowing successive presidential reelection and introducing a Council of Ministers and a vote of no confidence. Congress was even able to impeach an incumbent president in 1933. The 1929 document also introduced various social, economic, and political rights, including the right of literate women of at least twenty-one years of age to have citizenship and to vote, and the right of minorities to elect deputies and provincial councillors (consejeros provinciales). The traditional social and ethnic stratification continued, however, as did the constitutional distinction between citizens and Ecuadorians. Consequently, the 1929 charter, coinciding as it did with the worldwide economic crisis, failed to improve political stability significantly.

A Constituent Assembly, dominated by the leftist Ecuadorian Democratic Alliance, deliberated almost six months before adopting the country's fourteenth constitution, promulgated by President Velasco on May 3, 1945. Although Velasco had opposed the assembly's efforts to strengthen the legislature, the new constitution imposed a number of important checks on the president, especially regarding the executive's use of emergency and veto powers. The 1945 constitution also provided for a unicameral legislature, rendered the cabinet partially responsible to Congress, replaced the Council of State with the TGC, and established the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Superior Electoral--TSE). In addition, the 1945 constitution smoothed over the religious issue by stating that the nation did not recognize any official religion and that citizens could practice any faith.

Although Velasco signed the 1945 constitution, his immediate rejection of it prompted the adoption of another, promulgated in 1946, that restored the bicameral legislature (consisting of a forty-five-member Senate and a sixty-four-member Chamber of Deputies) and the Council of State (replacing the TGC) and greatly increased the executive's authority. Velasco's constitution also reintroduced the office of vice president, for which no provision had been made in the constitutions of 1869, 1906, 1929, and 1945. The constitution made autonomous the institutions responsible for supervising the electoral process: the TSE and the Provincial Electoral Tribunals (Tribunales Provinciales Electorales--TPEs).

The most extensive of Ecuador's constitutions, the 1967 document, drafted by a popularly elected constituent assembly, legitimized political parties recognized by the TSE; made voting obligatory for women as well as for men; and made Congress bicameral, meeting twice a year in ordinary sessions (from March 6 to May 4 and from August 10 to October 9). In addition, the TGC again replaced the Council of State.

The 1967 constitution, however, contained provisions that displeased Velasco, who as of June 2, 1968, was in his fifth term as president. For example, it restricted powers to call a state of siege. On June 22, 1970, Velasco, in an autogalpe (self- seizure of power), assumed extraconstitutional powers and began ruling by decree. He suspended the 1967 constitution, which he charged had destroyed executive control, amputated the Senate's power, divested the police of all authority, and dismembered the administrative organization.

After General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara deposed Velasco in a military coup in February 1972, the armed forces issued a decree reinstating the 1945 document. Rodríguez suspended it in 1974, however, and cancelled plans for holding an election. In January 1976, a military junta ousted Rodríguez and again reinstated the 1945 constitution. In a measure unprecedented in Ecuador's constitutional history, the junta held a popular referendum on January 15, 1978, to decide between a reformed version of the 1945 document and a new charter; 44 percent of the voters cast their ballots for the latter, and 31 percent for the former. Nullified votes totaled 23 percent.

By allowing for a considerable amount of state intervention and providing for a large number of economic and social rights, the new Constitution (promulgated on August 10, 1979) is much more progressive than the reformed document, which had favored the status quo. Framed along the lines of the 1945 and 1967 charters, the 1979 Constitution, the country's seventeenth, contains several innovations, including granting citizenship and suffrage to all Ecuadorians over eighteen years of age, including illiterates; and requiring candidates in popular elections to affiliate with a legally recognized party. It also creates a unicameral Congress (for the fourth time in Ecuador's constitutional history) and four Legislative Commissions which form the Plenary of Legislative Commissions (Plenario de las Comisiones Legislativas--PCL). In addition, it requires the selection of the president and vice president in the same election, prohibits either from seeking a successive term, authorizes Congress to elect a new vice president if the incumbent resigns, and allows the president to declare a state of national emergency and to finance the public debt without prior legislative authorization. Although the Constitution initially extended the presidential term to five years, an amendment later reduced it to four. The Constitution also creates the National Development Council (Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo-- Conade), headed by the vice president, and strengthens the independence of the judiciary.

To help compensate for numerous deficiencies in the 1979 Constitution, amendments were approved in 1983. These reforms, which went into effect in August 1984, give more power to the TGC; reduce from five to four years the term of the principal officials of the state, including the president (with the exceptions of TGC and TSE members, who serve two years); shorten the terms of the judges of the CSJ, Fiscal Tribunal, and Contentious Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo--TCA) from six years to four; and make the president and vice president of the republic subject to trial only for treason, bribery, or other infractions that seriously compromise the national honor.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, language, or social status. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s Indians and blacks constituted a disproportionate share of those living in poverty, although there was no legally sanctioned discrimination against them. Moreover, there were still few highly placed women in the political structure. Fewer than 15 percent of the candidates in the 1984 elections were women, and only three of the seventy-one congressional deputies elected that year were female. Women still suffered some discrimination under civil law and usually received lower wages than men employed in similar positions. In 1987, however, changes in laws concerning divorce, property distribution, and inheritance gave women equal rights with their husbands in these areas as required by the Constitution.

According to the United States Department of State, the following individual rights were respected in the late 1980s: the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; the freedom of religion (although the country was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic); the freedom of movement within the country, of foreign travel, and of emigration and repatriation (persons from other Latin American countries readily found asylum in Ecuador); and the freedom to exercise political rights. Worker rights that were generally respected included the right of association, the right to strike, and the right to organize and bargain collectively. Although forced or compulsory labor and employment of children under the age of eighteen were prohibited, Indians often worked for near-starvation wages, and many children in rural areas were active in the work force.

More about the Government and Politics of Ecuador.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites: - Ecuador - Constitutional Background
Ecuador - History & Background, Constitutional & Legal
ICL - Ecuador Index
Ecuadorian constitutional referendum, 2008 - Wikipedia
PAIS Alliance - Wikipedia

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