In an impeachment proceeding being conducted by the National Assembly, President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador has asserted his innocence on corruption charges.
Mr. Lasso, 67, has been accused of embezzling public funds. The leader of the conservative party told the opposition-controlled parliament that his accusers lacked evidence and that the trial was motivated by politics. It is the second attempt to remove the president from office since his inauguration in May 2021.
Last year's impeachment proceedings did not receive enough votes to proceed to trial. However, last week, 88 of 116 present legislators voted in favor of proceeding with the trial, allowing it to proceed.
The trial is the concluding phase of the impeachment proceedings and will conclude with a vote by the legislature on whether Mr. Lasso should remain in office or be removed. To remove Mr. Lasso from office, 92 members of the National Assembly, or two-thirds of the current 137 legislators, would have to vote against him.
On Tuesday, the trial commenced with the president's accusations being presented. It is alleged that the president was aware of an embezzlement conspiracy involving contracts between a state-owned oil transport company, Flopec, and a tanker company, but did nothing to stop it.
Mr. Lasso has denied any wrongdoing and asserted that the alleged embezzlement transpired prior to his election. In his address to the National Assembly, he characterized the allegations as "unfounded" and accused his opponents of inventing a situation.
Even those who advocated this trial realized they have nothing, he said, adding that his accusers seek to undermine not only the credibility of this presidency, but also democracy itself. The trial could last several days, while the vote on impeachment is not anticipated until the weekend. Nonetheless, if President Lasso determines to invoke a constitutional provision known as "muerte cruzada" (mutual death), it may not come to a vote.
The article not only provides the president with the right to dissolve the National Assembly, but it also requires him to schedule new elections within six months of dissolving the assembly. If he invoked this provision, Mr. Lasso would rule by decree, that is, without the input of legislators and under the supervision of the constitutional court, until new elections were held.
In spite of the fact that the "muerte cruzada" option was just made available in 2008 and has never been utilized before, Mr. Lasso has reportedly told insiders that he would use it rather than take the chance of being ousted from office.
It is viewed as an extreme measure, and Conaie, the largest confederation of indigenous groups in Ecuador, has threatened massive protests if Mr. Lasso dissolves the National Assembly. The clause can only be invoked prior to the final vote, so Mr. Lasso will closely monitor the trial for signs of support or opposition among legislators.
The trial for impeachment takes place during a tumultuous moment in Ecuador, with security at an all-time low as a crime wave fuelled by groups that have established partnerships with Mexican drug cartels sweeps across many of the country's main cities.