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Lessons from Ecuador’s Citizen Participation Law

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Source: DFID

In April 2010, Ecuador's National Assembly passed the Citizen Participation Law — an excellent compendium for anyone interested in participatory democracy. The law defined mechanisms for direct democracy through which Ecuadorians are participating in government decision-making and controlling public affairs. These mechanisms, many of which were already functioning in some parts of the country, constitute, in the law's own words, "a progressive setting of new spaces that make the direct exercise of citizen power possible."

At all levels, this legislation defined processes through which people could reform the Constitution, change laws and by-laws, organize referendums and binding popular consultations, remove an elected official and free access to public information. At the national level, the law established a set of councils through which civil society could participate in decision-making processes. At the local level, it created citizen assemblies (which can manage public funds), local planning councils, participatory budgeting, public hearings, open town hall sessions, an "empty chair" in the town council (filled by civil society representatives), citizen oversight over public management, popular observatories and local consultation councils.

A year and a half later, most ministries and local governments have started adopting such mechanisms. The speed and effectiveness of implementation has depended much on the political will of officials. The main challenge that civil society movements and organizations are facing is the tendency that government officials have to co-opt these mechanisms. Indeed, the national government kept some powers that can prevent organizations from exercising their rights to participate in public affairs.

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