A hundred days of the “same democracy”

By Juan Pablo Morales Viteri (for Safe Democracy)

Juan Pablo Morales Viteri analyzes the socio-political scenario in Ecuador, a hundred days after the election of Rafael Correa. In Viteri‘s opinion, the creation of a Constituent Assembly is not enough; true democracy depends on an absolute respect for human rights.

Juan Pablo Morales Viteri is a lawyer and professor of Law and Policy at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador as well as the coordinator of postgraduate studies of the Department of Jurisprudence. He has a bachelor’s degree in Human Rights and a Master’s Degree in Political Action, Institutional Strengthening, and Citizen Participation in the State of Law from the Francisco de Vitoria University, in Madrid.

RAFAEL CORREA HAS COMPLETED ONE HUNDRED DAYS at the head of the Ecuadorian government. Two things so far have marked his leadership: triumph in a popular referendum, and the parallel institutional disarticulation of the State.

The government maintains a very high level of approval of the new President. In his speech following the vote, Correa promised to respond to the attacks of his opponents with more democracy. Many of Correa’s critics have claimed that his election means disaster for the government.

The voting on April 15th, 2007, marked a massive increase in voter turnout. And almost all of the voters seemed to agree: 81 percent voted YES against the 11 percent that voted NO. This marked one of the greatest victories that a President has ever achieved in calling for a Popular Referendum.

The question up for debate was the formation of a Constituent Assembly with the power to transform the institutional framework of the state and elaborate a new Constitution.
The fact that 81 percent of Ecuador’s citizenry voted in favor of such an Assembly can be interpreted in various ways. The most common interpretation attributes the result to Ecuador’s desire to transform the government into a democracy by more than just name. The reformulation of the Constitution could strengthen the institutions of the state, and guarantee the rights of the people in such a way to make democratic governance a reality.

Yet, the people’s vision of democracy has little to do with the current reality. During the whole electoral process, state institutions began falling apart to the point of near disappearance, due to the biased interpretation of and generalized disrespect for the law by Ecuador’s politicians.

It would not be fair to say, however, that the State of Law has disappeared entirely over these past one hundred days. Looking back to the destruction of democratic institutions by earlier governments is enough to understand that Correa has not yet plunged into authoritarianism.

Yet, the fact that the traditional political practices have been maintained by using the state’s judicial framework as a means of pressure is revealing of Ecuador’s mistaken conception of what democracy actually means. The utilitarian interchange of legitimacy and legality cannot be considered lawful in an established democracy.

These practices, executed by all levels of state power, have negatively affected the citizenry, created an environment of general distrust of institutions and authority, and justified the use of extralegal mechanisms in the name of contested legitimacy.

With these considerations in mind, the governmental offering of more democracy should not consist of more electoral processes. On the contrary, more democracy means that the rights of the citizens of Ecuador must be guaranteed by the Constitution and respected absolutely. The judicial branch must safeguard these essential human rights throughout the writing of a new constitution, in order to fully institute the changes that Ecuadorian society so badly desires.

Change in Ecuador should be about quality not quantity. With the help of all of the sectors of society, we must build a concept of democracy that is more than just a name, more than just an all-encompassing word that is everything and nothing at the same time. Because really, despite all of Correa’s promises, over the last 100 days we have been living under the exact same democracy as before.

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