Ecuador government says referendum results not a 'dramatic' setback

FILE PHOTO: A woman casts her vote during a constitutional referendum and local elections, in Quito, Ecuador February 5, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadoreans' rejection in a referendum of proposals including allowing extradition for organized crime were not a "dramatic" setback for the administration of President Guillermo Lasso, Government Minister Francisco Jimenez said on Tuesday.

A majority voted "no" to all eight questions posed by the president in Sunday's referendum, with 97% of votes counted, according to official data from the electoral court.

Attempts to give the attorney general's office more autonomy to choose prosecutors and reduce the number of legislators in the 137-seat assembly were among the proposals rejected.

Some voters said they did not think the proposals would do enough to tackle crime in Ecuador, while others framed their response as a more general rejection of Lasso.

The results have came at a difficult time for Lasso, who is struggling with worries about law and order including anti-mining protests by indigenous groups that have hurt the economy, and widespread gang violence in prisons.

However, the vote was not a resounding defeat for the government, Jimenez said, pointing to a "yes" vote of more than 40% on all the proposals.

"We don't think the issue is so dramatic," the minister told local media.

"Today we haven't lost the war, we have lost a battle in which we tried to provide new tools to citizens to combat some of the problems we have," he said.

Lasso has repeatedly clashed with lawmakers opposed to his security and economic reforms, with some assembly members attempting to oust him during demonstrations last year.

Late on Monday, the president called on all political groups to reach a national agreement to find mechanisms for combating drug trafficking and improving living conditions.

Mayoral elections were held on the same day as the referendum, and former President Rafael Correa's party, Revolucion Ciudadana, says it won more than 60 seats, including the cities of Quito and Guayaquil.

That party described the "no" vote in the referendum as a rejection of Lasso's government, adding that the questions were "tricky" and did not solve the country's problems of security and unemployment.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Steven Grattan; Editing by Oliver Griffin and Rosalba O'Brien)

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