On May 6th Ecuador's National Electoral Commission (CNE) rejected another 239,342 signatures collected by environmental activists in a bid to trigger a referendum on planned oil development in the Yasuní National Park. In total the CNE approved just 359,762 signatures, leaving the activists, who are known as Yasunidos, well short of the 583,323, or 5% of the electoral roll, required to hold a referendum.

In disqualifying two-thirds of the near 800,000 signatures initially put forward, CNE officials said that they found enough fictitious names and repeat signatures to consider the whole initiative deceitful. The Yasunidos allege something similar, calling the CNE count a "fraud"; the activists say they plan to take the case to Ecuador's administrative court and if that fails, as they expect, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Although nominally independent, the CNE has suffered accusations of bias before. In 2012 the body rejected hundreds of thousands of signatures required to register political organisations. Earlier this year it was accused of failing to stop president Rafael Correa from campaigning in favour of Quito's incumbent mayor, Augusto Barrera, during a "quiet period" just before local elections.

The suspicion among many is that the CNE has bowed to the wishes of Mr Correa, who wants to develop an area of the park known as Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT). "The government couldn't take the risk of having the issue reach the referendum [stage], which it could have lost," says Juan Carlos Donoso, a political scientist. Plenty of activists are furious about being thwarted. The question now is whether they can keep the issue in the public eye.

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