Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso speaks to The Washington Post on Thursday in the presidential palace in Quito.

Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso speaks to The Washington Post on Thursday in the presidential palace in Quito. (Arturo Torres for The Washington Post)

QUITO, Ecuador — A day after he dissolved the National Assembly, averting his looming impeachment but triggering new elections this year, Ecuadoran president Guillermo Lasso said he has no plans to run in them - and doesn't care who replaces him.

"My goal is not to prevent someone from returning to Ecuador," he told The Washington Post in an interview Thursday evening. He was referring to the party of his leftist rival Rafael Correa, the country's longest-serving democratically elected president and still an influential leader here.

Instead, he told The Post, he plans to use his last months as one of Latin America's few remaining center-right presidents to advance executive orders focused on security, health, education and infrastructure. Among them: a decree, to be announced as soon as next week, that would boost protections for security forces who use their weapons to defend themselves and others.

The 67-year-old former banker steered this South American nation 0f 18 million into new territory this week with his declaration Wednesday of a muerte cruzada - roughly, "mutual death." The constitutional measure, which he invoked days before the legislature was to vote on his removal on embezzlement charges, allows him to send lawmakers home and rule by decree for up to six months. Then new elections must be held.

Lasso rejects the charges against him as politically motivated; supporters call them bogus. He's the first Ecuadoran president to invoke muerte cruzada, which effectively cuts his four-year term in half. It was added to the constitution when Correa was president.

The move was seen by some as a last-minute effort to avoid impeachment, a calculation that the votes were stacked against him in the political trial. But Lasso told The Post he had decided on the muerte cruzada days earlier, and followed through after making sure he had the support of the military.

Intelligence authorities said the president had received information that the opposition lacked the votes needed to impeach him. But Lasso, fed up with an opposition-led assembly that has succeeded in blocking most of his agenda, decided to dissolve it anyway. He applied the measure, he wrote in his declaration, to address the "grave political crisis" in an assembly whose members were unable to perform their functions properly.

"What was fundamental was to provide an exit to this political crisis," Lasso told The Post. He described the move as an "act of generosity for the country, to shorten a presidential term to achieve the common interest of Ecuadorans ... and not see this embarrassing spectacle of fighting between politicians."

Ecuador's constitutional court upheld Lasso's declaration Thursday, rejecting six lawsuits aimed at blocking it. The electoral court said it would hold early legislative and presidential elections as soon as Aug. 20, with a potential runoff presidential election in October. Lasso said his party plans to nominate a candidate.

Speaking in a wood-paneled room of the presidential palace after the most chaotic day in Ecuadoran politics in years, the president appeared notably at ease and upbeat in a jacket, sweater and jeans. He sought to minimize concerns that the months ahead could bring mass protests, or that his leftist opponents could win the elections and punish him.

He had said before his impeachment trial opened Tuesday that he would declare a muerte cruzada if he believed lawmakers had the votes to remove him. Leaders of Ecuador's powerful Indigenous movement, credited with playing a key role in ousting three previous presidents, said they would respond to the move by staging street demonstrations. But by Thursday evening, there had been no substantial protests. And Correa, who called Lasso's move unconstitutional on Wednesday, appeared to be trying to capitalize on it Thursday.

"You know what? Despite his lies and contradictions, Lasso is right: We are experiencing internal commotion," the former president tweeted Thursday. "Let's go to those elections and sweep them at the polls."

Simón Pachano, a political scientist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador, argued Lasso made the decision primarily to avoid his impeachment. He pushed back on the president's claims that he simply isn't interested in running for office again.

"It seems to me that he has no chance of winning," Pachano said, and Lasso knows it. "I think he's a sort of skilled poker player. He never shows emotions."

Elected in 2021, Lasso was to have served through 2025, when he would have been eligible to run for one more four-year term.

He said he received support on Wednesday from several foreign allies, including the United States. After his declaration, U.S. Ambassador Michael J. Fitzpatrick said the United States "respects Ecuador's internal and constitutional processes" and "will continue working with the constitutional government, civil society, the private sector and the Ecuadoran people."

Lasso rejected the idea that Ecuador is the latest Latin American country to experience democratic backsliding. But it's difficult to ignore several recent incidents in the region - ranging from Brazil, where supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the capital in January in an effort to reverse his election loss, to El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has suspended key civil liberties to crack down on gangs, to Guatemala, which has chased away anticorruption prosecutors and this week succeeded in shutting an investigative newspaper down.

Peru's Pedro Castillo, facing impeachment in December, tried to dissolve that country's legislature and rule by decree, but he lacked the constitutional authority or the political support needed to succeed. He was removed from office and arrested that day.

The crises in Peru and Ecuador, though they developed in very different contexts, demonstrate a breakdown in political representation, said Alberto Vergara, a political scientist at the University of the Pacific in Peru. Both countries have suffered dramatic fragmentation in political parties, producing legislatures that have proved unwieldy and unpredictable.

But Ecuador's crisis extends far beyond its national assembly. Once seen as relatively peaceful compared to its neighbors, the country is now suffering spiraling drug trafficking and gang violence.

Lasso has issued a state of emergency in several parts of the country, at times echoing Bukele's strategy in El Salvador. In April, Lasso allowed civilians to possess and carry guns for self-defense.

And next week, he told The Post, he plans to pass an executive order to give "more confidence, tranquility and security to our law enforcement, so that they can use their endowed weapons to protect innocent citizens and also themselves."

Lasso said it wasn't easy to cut his presidency short. But he is convinced that his successors, if faced with a similar political crisis, should not be afraid to do the same.

"I would recommend it to any future president of Ecuador," he said.

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