Sept. 29, 2008:
New Ecuadorian Constitution approved
Early vote counts of yesterday's referendum indicate that the new constitution was approved by 63% to 70% of participating voters, while only about 25% voted against it.Sept. 18, 2008:
Creating New Participative Ecuadorian Constitution
While participating in the Phoenix Gathering, I was able to witness one phase of the current Ecuadorian constitutional project: Ecuador is trying to build a much better, truly participative democracy. When we were there, their Constitutional Assembly was still at work writing a new participative constitution, while fulfilling simultaneously all the normal duties of the parliament.
The assembly finished its work at the end of July. The full text of the new constitution is here. This constitution has still to be approved in a popular referendum scheduled for September 28, 2008. During the months of August and September there seems to be various dialogues and discussions going on about this new constitution.
I have not yet checked the full text of the new constitution, but from what I saw so far, it has an extensive decentralization of power to provinces, cantons and individual communities, and a large autonomy for the indigenous peoples (recognizing their traditional justice system and government on their territories). I've checked in some detail e.g. the section "Organización social y participatión en democracia". It does not seem to prescribe any particular form or composition of some standardized Citizens Councils, but it allows for whatever individual and collective democratic mechanisms (representative, direct, communal or traditional indigenous) of participation that the citizens of individual communities find suitable for them (if I understood the Spanish text properly). Chapter IV of this Section is called "How to exercise Direct Democracy". It allows among others popular initiatives at all levels of government. Less important initiatives require only 0.25% of initial signatures of registered voters to go ahead! Changes of constitution, 1% of signatures. Then there is an institution of convening a "consulta popular" - something like "Consulting council of citizens"? It can be convened by the President of the republic, governments of various levels, or by citizens' initiatives. To convene such "consulta popular" by citizens on the national level, 5% of signatures are necessary, and 10% for the local level. To recall a representative, 10% of signatures are needed, to recall the President, 15%. To register a political party or movement, 1.5% of signatures of registered voters in the respective jurisdiction have to be presented.
The new constitutions recognizes indigenous languages (two having got a semi-official status), and gives large autonomy to the indigenous nations. Their traditional institutions and justice systems are being recognized by the new constitution. Decisions concerning their members on their own territory, including the punishment for various crimes by their traditional justice are final, and must be recognized by the state organs.
The Constitution also has a chapter "Rights for Nature":
I have not found much information explaining the new constitution in English. This is the most informative article in English I found so far. There are several rather skeletal Wikipedia articles: e.g., convening the assembly, work finished. Google searches come up mainly with critique of the constitution from some foreign economic interests or pro-abortion groups, and also quite a few Ecuadorians. It's a mountainous task to reach a consensus all segments of the rather fragmented Ecuadorian society would be happy with! However, it seems that the new constitution may be approved.
mk, Sept. 18, 2008