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Ecuadors draft charter favors leftist president
Ecuador Politics NY 7539978
An April 17, 2008 file photo shows Ecuador's President Rafael Correa answering questions during a meeting with foreign press at the government palace in Quito, Ecuador. A proposed new constitution would grant Ecuador's leftist president broad powers including the ability to dissolve Congress and set monetary policy. - photo by Associated Press
    MONTECRISTI, Ecuador — A proposed new constitution grants Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa broad powers including the ability to dissolve Congress and set monetary policy, and would let him stay in office through 2017.
    The charter, up for initial approval Thursday, would help wrest power from Ecuador’s widely discredited traditional political parties and more equitably distribute wealth, the U.S.-trained economist who took office in January 2007 said.
    Correa’s detractors say the proposed constitution would concentrate excessive power in his hands and amount to a virtual coronation of the self-avowed Christian socialist leader.
    The 444-article proposal is expected to be approved Thursday by the constituent assembly elected to write it. Correa’s Alianza Pais party controls more than 60 percent of the 130-member assembly.
    If it is passed, the nation’s voters will decide Sept. 28 whether to adopt it.
    The effort follows the lead of Correa’s socialist allies — Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales — in seeking a constitutional rewrite that would let him extend his years in power.
    The proposal would enable Correa to run for two new and consecutive four-year terms.
    It does not specify when a new Congress would be elected, though a vote is expected early next year. The old Congress was dissolved and replaced provisionally by the constituent assembly.
    The new charter would also let Correa dissolve Congress within the first three years of a new four-year term. But he would have to call new elections for his own post at the same time.
    The document also would give the president functions currently performed by the independent Central Bank, and some worry that Correa could politicize what has been a watchdog institution tasked with ensuring economic stability.
    Though Ecuador’s economy is dollar-based, the Central Bank issues financial data and controls how many U.S. dollars are injected into the economy.
    ‘‘We want a president of a democratic republic, not a monarch in power,’’ former President Lucio Gutierrez told The Associated Press.
    Before assembly members cast their votes Thursday, the body approved an overhaul of the Supreme Court, voting to reduce the 31-member body by 10 justices if the new constitution is approved. The assembly also fired one of the judges on the electoral court — a member of an opposition party — and replaced him with a pro-government judge.
    The last-minute measures angered some opposition assembly members.
    Leon Roldos, a former vice president, resigned from the assembly.
    ‘‘I will not be a part of this tragicomedy,’’ he said, calling the measures ‘‘clear slants of absolutism and totalitarianism.’’
    The assembly also voted to make the Indian languages Quichua and Shuar official languages alongside Spanish.
    The document’s less radical brand of socialism — when compared to those of Morales and Chavez — and Correa’s popularity should boost its chances of voter approval come the referendum.
    Correa’s approval rating was 53 percent in a May Cedatos-Gallup poll of 1,216 people that had a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. But Correa may need to tread carefully.
    Many investors were spooked by his move to increase government control of windfall oil profits from 50 percent to 99 percent last year. Ecuador is South America’s fifth-largest oil producer.
    Also discouraging foreign direct investment, which fell 34 percent in 2007 according to the Central Bank, was the government’s suspension this year of all new mining concessions, which practically paralyzed Ecuador’s nascent mining industry.
    Although the economy grew by less than 3 percent last year, Correa insisted government intervention is necessary to close a wide income gap in this Andean nation of 14 million.
    ‘‘We believe in the market, in an economic reality,’’ Correa said Tuesday. ‘‘It’s another thing for the market to be the maximum authority to assign all resources and order all aspects of social life.’’
    Associated Press writer Jeanneth Valdivieso in Quito, Ecuador, contributed to this report.

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