Congress chooses interim president for Ecuador again Legislative chief elected, 57-2

executive for 3 days resumes vice presidency

February 12, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

QUITO, Ecuador -- The president of Congress was elected interim president of the nation last night for the second time in a week -- this time after some constitutional maneuvering intended to keep him in the job.

Legislators elected Fabian Alarcon by a 57-2 vote in what appeared to be the product of overt political deal-making rather than popular pressure, unlike the congressional session Thursday night.

That night, Congress declared the elected president, Abdala Bucaram, "mentally incompetent," as hundreds of thousands throughout the country clamored for his removal. At the same time, Congress voted to replace him with Alarcon.

The next day, Ecuador briefly had three people claiming the presidency: Alarcon; Bucaram, who had barricaded himself in the presidential palace; and Bucaram's vice president, Rosalia Arteaga.

The military stepped in, arranging for Bucaram to step aside, Alarcon to return to his congressional position and Arteaga to take over Sunday as interim president while Congress drafted rules for succession.

Yesterday, Bucaram was headed to Panama, his refuge for several years in the 1980s after he was charged with corruption while mayor of Guayaquil. And Ecuadoreans seemed more preoccupied with ducking water balloons on the last day of Carnival than with who would replace the flamboyant president known as "El Loco" for his public antics.

Arteaga, who had come to address Congress before the session began, found the door shut to her as the first bars of the national anthem were being played. "There is no democratic regime," she said, and returned to the presidential palace. From there she resigned from the presidency to resume her job as vice tTC president.

Noting that when other presidents were killed, their vice presidents took over as a matter of course, she blamed political "machismo" for her fate and condemned what she called the "political bazaar" of egotism and ambition in Congress.

She threatened to publish a book revealing the offers and threats she said she had received in the past few days, and she called for a nationwide vote to elect a new president.

Alarcon, who resumed the presidency of Congress on Saturday night, landed in a powerful position to engineer his return to the interim presidency, this time with a far stronger base of political support.

While Congress was not set to amend the country's constitution last night, the resolution voting Alarcon back into the presidency required amendments to legalize his appointment within 95 days. Because a two-thirds majority is needed to amend the constitution, and 57 of the 82 members of Congress voted for the resolution to install Alarcon, by implication, they made the election constitutional, officials said.

Bucaram's fierce attacks on the ruling classes during his election campaign made him one of the most popular candidates in Ecuador's history.

But his fall from popularity was swift as well, following drastic economic changes that began by stripping job protection laws and subsidies for telephones, gasoline, electricity and cooking gas.

His administration, from the start, established a reputation for corruption and nepotism, which fueled popular distrust of his economic measures.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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