Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights

ECUADOR: Exit Polls Show Strong Support for New Constitution

Rosa Rodríguez

QUITO, Sep 28 2008 (IPS) - The new constitution promoted by the government of Rafael Correa, indigenous groups and social movements in Ecuador was approved by a broad majority of voters in Sunday’s referendum, according to exit polls.

The Cedatos polling company reported that 69 percent of voters came out in favour of the new constitution, while 24 percent voted against it and seven percent cast spoiled ballots. The Santiago Pérez firm found that the constitution was approved by 66 percent, with 25 percent against and eight percent spoiled ballots.

In the southwestern port city of Guayaquil, where the rightwing opposition is at its strongest, the exit polls by Cedatos indicate that 49.9 percent of voters were in favour of the new constitution and 44.8 percent against, while Santiago Pérez put the percentages at 47 and 43 percent, respectively.

After voting in Quito, a confident President Correa flew to his hometown Guayaquil, Ecuador’s economic capital and main port, where he planned to hear the official results of the referendum.

Security Minister Gustavo Larrea said he was pleased with the results and, stressing the strong support for the new constitution in Guayaquil, told IPS that “we are open to dialogue” with the opposition.

The new constitution will create a free universal health care system, compulsory health insurance and free education up to university level, and will make homemakers eligible for social security.

It will also legalise same-sex civil unions, and will grant rights to migrant workers, refugees and young people, while recognising nature’s right to “exist” and guaranteeing access to water as a fundamental human right.

In addition, the president will be allowed to run for a second consecutive term, and foreign military bases will be banned.

In a move that took the media by surprise, Correa decided Sunday morning to visit Alberto Acosta, the former president of the constituent assembly that rewrote the constitution, with whom he had a falling-out in June.

“I want to underscore President Correa’s gesture,” Acosta, who after the president is the country’s second-most popular political leader, remarked to IPS. “He called me and came to see me, and we had a 10-minute meeting.

“I would have liked to go and vote with him and (Vice President) Lenin Moreno, but unfortunately we were unable to work out our schedules. I had already arranged with friends and colleagues to go and vote at 10:00 AM and that didn’t fit Correa’s agenda,” he added.

Acosta said the meeting was important for closing the breach in their relationship, although he clarified that it did not mean that all of their differences had been overcome, and that they would be meeting to discuss the issues that caused their rift.

In an interview with the on-line radio station, he said the important aspect was not that they had been reunited, but that they agreed to sit down and talk about the various issues that had come between them, which he said would be healthy for the governing Alianza País (Country Alliance) party and for Ecuador as a whole.

One of the issues that prompted Acosta to resign as president of the constituent assembly was the question of prior consultation with indigenous communities on mining projects and other initiatives on their land.

Under the new constitution, native communities must be consulted with respect to projects in their territory. But the powerful indigenous CONAIE organisation and Acosta also wanted the communities to have veto power over things like oil and mining activities on their land.

Another question that distanced the two close friends and political allies was the issue of the Jul. 24 deadline for finishing the new constitution.

“I would have preferred to take a few more weeks, to discuss the constitution calmly and in-depth, and to fully comply with all of the proper procedures. I realise there was a political aspect, which was that if we didn’t finish on time we would have been violating the statute approved (in an earlier referendum) by the Ecuadorean people.

“But it is no less true, and in the end I turned out to be right in a way, that although we would have had a political problem and some difficulties and costs for the assembly (if we hadn’t met the deadline), we would also have avoided some of the issues that later on became a focus of debate in the campaign,” said Acosta.

He said that the big challenge now that the country has a new constitution is to come up with a new way of “doing democracy,” with party candidates arising from internal primaries rather than selected by the party leadership.

Acosta added that “No one can impose anything on Correa, but he is extremely intelligent and smart enough to realise that it is important to open the door to dialogue and talks, and I hope he may even have the capacity to shift direction, clarify a few things, reorient the government and introduce the changes that the Ecuadorean people are waiting for.”

CONAIE, the national indigenous movement, broke with Correa in May over several issues, including their demand for veto power over mining and oil activities on their land, and their assertion that the centre-left government had continued to follow rightwing “neoliberal” economic policies and “racist” social policies of the past.

The head of the Organisation of American States (OAS) election observation mission, Enrique Correa, told IPS that the voting had gone smoothly.

“The voting has been normal…people have turned out en masse to vote in calm,” said Correa (no relation to the president). “We have not observed any setbacks.” He also said the election for the referendum was well-organised.

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