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Stage set for Ecuadorian president or lawmakers to be booted out of office

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — A showdown between Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso and the opposition-led National Assembly could result in either side being booted from office this week as lawmakers seek to try him for embezzlement and he mulls exercising his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature.

Lawmakers will continue impeachment proceedings against the right-leaning politician 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 a strong opposition in the Assembly. At the same time, the South American country has experienced an increase in drug-related violence, including several massacres in prisons over the past two years.

Whatever happens this week, the country’s overall instability will certainly deepen.

“The removal of the president, being an institutional earthquake in any democracy, will be an event that it will shake the country’s political scene,” said Laura Lizarazo, senior analyst covering Ecuador and Colombia for the global firm Control Risks.

This is the second time the opposition tries 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 remarks from any of the 137 legislators who wish to speak on the politically charged case.

The opposition is widely expected to reach the 92 votes necessary to remove Lasso following the debate, but it remains unclear exactly when within the next five days the Assembly’s leadership will schedule the vote on the measure, although lawmakers have signaled it could happen Saturday. Also unknown is whether Lasso will choose to dissolve the legislature to keep his job and govern by decree until presidential and legislative elections are scheduled.

Lawmakers are accusing Lasso of not having intervened to end a contract between the state-owned oil transport company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and the private entity Amazonas Tankers. The accusers argue that Lasso knew the contract was full of irregularities and cost the state millions in losses.

But lawmakers have not offered any proof so far. Lasso, who has denied the allegations, told foreign press in April that he would not hesitate to dissolve the Assembly if his removal were imminent.

“We anticipate that the progressive deterioration in terms of security that Ecuador has experienced in the last year will persist, as well as the high levels of dissatisfaction among the population who feel that democratic institutions, both the Assembly as well as the Executive, are totally disconnected from their most urgent needs, which have to do with unemployment, violence, totally unprecedented levels of extortion by organized crime, and petty crime,” Lizarazo said.

Impeachment proceedings run separate from criminal investigations. Ecuador’s Prosecutor’s Office has opened a preliminary investigation, but Lasso has not been criminally charged.

Constitutional attorney Andre Benavides said the accusations against Lasso do not fit an embezzlement case because neither the damage to the state nor the alleged personal benefit of the president has been established.

“In this case, there is no money trace, it does not exist,” Benavides said.

The Organization of American States on Monday urged legislators to “offer all the guarantees of justice and respect the rules of due process” during this week’s proceedings.

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