Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso.

Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso. (AP)

Explainer: The Impeachment Challenge Facing Ecuador's Guillermo Lasso

By Jon Orbach

The opposition-controlled Assembly may have numbers to vote out the president, but the process is not clear cut. AS/COA Online explains.

Updated April 28—This isn’t the first time Ecuador’s Guillermo Lasso has faced challenges to his presidency, but this is his toughest one yet. As he faces off with an increasingly hostile National Assembly, the former banker appears to lack the numbers needed to survive an impeachment vote—should one occur. 

On March 30, the national Constitutional Court ruled in favor of allowing the National Assembly to prosecute Lasso for failing to stop corruption and gave the body 45 days to complete the process. Lasso denies the allegations and has threatened to retaliate with an as-yet-unused constitutional clause that would dissolve the legislature and trigger elections for both the legislative and the executive branches, ahead of their slated 2025 dates.

Lasso started his tenure in office on a high note—and with high approval—thanks in large part to his government’s successful Covid vaccination drive during his first 100 days in office. Since then, however, it has largely been downhill for the leader. He has been challenged by major protests, a stagnant economy, unprecedented drug-related violence, opposition gains in important mayoral races, and the loss of an eight-proposal referendum in February. His approval has sunk to 22 percent and he faces an opposition-led National Assembly where the biggest bloc is headed by former President Rafael Correa (2007–2017), a fierce Lasso critic who is in exile in Belgium but was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for bribery. 

AS/COA Online looks at the impeachment process against Lasso and the road forward for Ecuador.

The process facing Lasso

Lasso faces charges for failing to stop corruption involving a contract between state oil shipping company Flopec and a business that is alleged to have generated state losses. Lasso denies responsibility and says the contract was signed before he took office. Opposition legislators contend that Lasso knew about the corruption and did nothing to stop it

On March 4, 104 legislators backed a report favoring an impeachment process. Then, on March 30, the Constitutional Court ruled 6–3 that the Assembly should move ahead with trying the president in a process slated to take up to 45 days. In order to impeach Lasso, the National Assembly needs 92 votes, equivalent to at least two-thirds of the body. 

On April 18, the National Assembly began receiving testimony from opposition lawmakers and other figures involved in the case. After testimony, the Assembly’s Oversight Committee will decide whether there is enough evidence to advance the impeachment to a vote. 

Should the vote proceed, the numbers may not work in Lasso’s favor, given that his bloc holds just 24 out of 137 seats. He faces particular hostility from the Union for Hope (UNES) party, loyal to Correa, which has promised that its 47 votes will back impeachment, as well as from the political arm of leftist indigenous groups that brought the country to a standstill with protests in 2022. Their votes, along with early indications from members of some other parties, could put the total over the line. 

On the other hand, Lasso has survived two other legal attempts to oust him. One involved the “serious political crisis and internal commotion” during the strike in June 2022 in which 80 legislators voted for impeachment. Another involved corruption uncovered in the Pandora Papers in December 2021. At the time, the National Assembly voted to only question him instead of removing him from office. Lasso told the Financial Times in an April interview that he would defend himself in Congress, but he admitted that surviving a vote was unlikely and threatened to trigger “cross-death” if he gets impeached. This measure from the 2008 Constitution would prompt fresh elections for both the executive and National Assembly, and the winners would assume office until 2025. Lasso says he would run in that election. If Lasso is forced to step down, Vice President Alfredo Borrero would take over as president for the remaining two years of the term. Currently in his first elected role, Borrero is a neurosurgeon who played a key role in Ecuador’s Covid-19 vaccine distribution. 

Halfway through a tough term

Even before this impeachment challenge, Lasso, a former governor, faced challenges. 

Despite enjoying a 74-percent approval rate early in his term, his popularity took a southward turn. Trouble mounted in June 2022 when protests against rising food and fuel prices turned into a two-week national strike, with Lasso bearing the brunt of its ire. The organizers of the strike, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), went on to agree to the terms of a negotiated solution brokered by Lasso. But since then, CONAIE representatives have repeatedly called for his resignation

Lasso is also governing amid an unprecedented wave of violent crime, with drug-trafficking groups gaining influence and Guayaquil becoming a transit hub for Europe-bound cocaine. In 2022, Ecuador’s homicide rate reached a record 25.7 per 100,000 people, a 245-percent increase over the 2020 rate. Earlier this month, Lasso announced a decree that would ease restrictions on civilians carrying firearms in what he framed as a bid to rein in insecurity. 

In February, Lasso’s government put out an eight-question electoral referendum, which included a proposal to allow extradition for drug and other criminals. Voters rejected all eight questions, and the opposition won mayoral races held the same day in Quito and Guayaquil, the two biggest cities.  

Another matter tarnishing Lasso’s image involves a case tied to the one for which he faces impeachment. Ecuadoran media outlet La Posta revealed documents and recordings that alleged that Danilo Carrera, Lasso’s brother-in-law, had ties with public officials engaging in drug trafficking and corruption, and even headed a network of influence peddling via public companies. Lasso asked the federal prosecutor’s office to investigate—but only after the report came out.