Faced with thousands of protesters, reflecting growing popular pressure, Ecuador's Congress voted on February 13 to allow a motion by President Rafael Correa for a referendum on a constituent assembly.
The referendum, to be held on April 15, will allow the election by September of 130 members to the assembly, which will have 180 days to rewrite the constitution (with a possible 30-day extension). The proposal, which is supported by over 75% of Ecuadorians, is similar to Venezuela's successful 1999 assembly and Bolivia's current constituent assembly.
The assembly is intended to limit the power of the traditional, pro-rich parties and Congress, which are regarded to be extremely corrupt, and allow greater democratic participation by the community through decreasing electorate sizes and allowing the recall of all elected officials.
The traditional parties see the assembly as a threat to their power, and refused to allow it without securing immunity from the assembly's power for the 100-seat Congress. Even then, most of the opposition parties walked out before the vote was taken. The final vote was 54-1, with two abstentions, after the minority opposition Patriotic Society Party voted for the referendum.
However, Correa has maintained that the assembly will have the power to dismiss not only the Congress, but judges, and even the president himself. Correa, a self-described socialist and close ally of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, was elected vowing to build a "citizens' revolution".
"The fight is just beginning", said Correa on February 13, calling on Ecuadorians to "fulfil their role in history, crushing the mafia at the ballot boxes".