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Ecuador legislature moves forward on president's impeachment

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s opposition-led National Assembly voted Tuesday to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Guillermo Lasso over embezzlement allegations, while his defense team argued that the procedure violated the legislative body’s own rules.

The vote to move forward with the impeachment process required a majority of lawmakers present, and 88 of the 116 lawmakers at the session voted in favor. The debate came three days after a majority-led legislative committee declined to adopt a report produced by its own members that had cleared Lasso of the allegations.

Assemblywoman Viviana Veloz, a member of the opposition, urged lawmakers to allow the process to continue “so that once and for all, it is absolutely clear, this trial has a political nature.”

Tuesday’s vote means that Lasso’s accusers and his defense will be allowed to present evidence before the National Assembly. To remove the president, at least 92 of the Assembly’s 137 members — more than two-thirds — would have to vote in favor later this month.

At any time during the process, Lasso could move to dissolve the Assembly and govern by decree with the control of the Constitutional Court for up to six months, after which he would have to call for new presidential and legislative elections.

Lasso told foreign press in April that he would not hesitate to dissolve the Assembly if his removal were imminent. Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, the largest of its kind in the country, ruled out protests should the Assembly be dissolved.

Julio Echeverría, a professor at the campus in Quito of the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, said Lasso’s presidency reached this point because of his confrontational style, and now, “we have a president who is desperate to find allies to save himself from impeachment.”

Echeverría added that if Lasso manages to keep his job, he will likely change his style and be more flexible with economic policies, including being more open to investing in education and health programs that would benefit the poor.

The last time Ecuadorian lawmakers removed a president from office was in 1997, when without an impeachment trial, medical report or psychiatric evaluation, they declared Abdalá Bucaram mentally unfit to govern.

While lawmakers accuse the president of embezzlement, they have not offered proof of the accusation, and on Saturday, the Legislative Oversight Commission issued a report that cleared Lasso. But five of the nine commision members voted to not approve the report.

Edgar Neira, Lasso’s lawyer, told the Teleamazonas television network that the lawmakers’ move has no legal basis. The Assembly cannot exercise a power “that is not established in the constitution and the law,” Neira said.

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