In two weeks, Ecuador will hold a constitutional referendum. Every citizen over 18 is obligated to vote. If ratified, the new constitution would be the country’s 20th since 1830. As important as the upcoming US presidential elections might be back home, the long term consequences of September 28’s vote will almost certainly be more dramatic for this country.

The constitution is the project of leftist president Correa. From limited conversations, it seems that those for “Si” generally view it as a victory for social causes, most notably free education and healthcare, while many of those for “No” believe it dangerous as a means for the executive branch to hoard power in the way Chavez has in Venezuela or as an undermining of family values, with same-sex marriage and women’s right to abortion as the primary concerns.

The entire country is caught up in the political firestorm. Debates dominate radio waves and television screens, and propaganda pervades media outlets. Supporters of both sides wave flags and yell through microphones on the corners of crowded intersections. Community constitution readings and support-groups in public parks are the norm. Strong-opinioned arguments can erupt anywhere and almost without notice. From bars to taxis, dinner tables to sidewalks, excitable Ecuadorians plead, shout, and agitate for their side. Any Ecuadorian of voting age can be defined by their alignment por el “Sí” or el “No”.

I have never seen such widespread interest and passion for politics, and this is especially notable given that distrust of the government is so common, and that political instability and unrest have been a staple since the country’s founding. Never before has the population been so included in charting the course for their country, and a huge proportion is taking advantage of this new-found power by becoming informed, engaging in debate, and being vocal for their side.

As debate, anxiety, and political furor reach fever pitch, only one thing will remain certain: The 28th will be an unbelievable day to be in Ecuador, and to be an Ecuadorian.

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