Ecuador 2013

Presidential and legislative elections were held in Ecuador on February 17, 2013. The President of Ecuador is elected for a five-year term renewable once (under the 2008 constitution), through two-round voting. The Vice President is elected on a ticket with the winning presidential candidate. The country’s unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), will now be composed of 137 members. 116 of these members are ‘provincial deputies’ elected multi-member constituencies corresponding to the 24 provinces with the three largest province (Guayas, Pichincha, and Manabí) subdivided into four or two (Manabí) districts. 15 are ‘national deputies’ elected on a national list while the remaining six members are elected in three districts representing Ecuadorians living abroad. Deputies are elected by open-list proportional representation (panachage is allowed but dissuaded); the national seats are allocated using Webster’s method, the remaining seats are now allocated using the d’Hondt method. Not many voters understand this system, which explains why 26.8% of ballots in the 2009 legislative election were blank or null votes.

Background

Ecuador has been ruled by a succession of authoritarian strongmen, military leaders, oligarchs, charismatic populists, right-wing businessmen and a surprisingly high number of insane madmen. Most of these successive leaders have been a disastrous mix of incompetents, autocrats, kleptocrats, or venal self-interested leaders. Politicians and political parties throughout the country’s history have formed a sort of aloof elite, disconnected from the wider Ecuadorian society which remained poor and alienated from the central government. Indeed, until the late 1970s, illiterates could not vote so Ecuadorian politics and elections was a game played by only the literate elites. Since 1979, there has been a proliferation of political parties, most of which have tended to be either ephemeral personal vehicles for ambitious politicians or weak groupings of various strongmen and politicians without any consistent ideologies.

These posts in a forum thread about the elections offer a phenomenal explanation of Ecuadorian history and politics. It has informed most of my commentary and analysis in this article.

Almost nothing is ever consistent in Ecuadorian politics, but one thing which has been consistent since 1830 has been a very marked and potent regional divide. Ecuador is divided into three natural regions: the Costa, the Sierra and the Oriente (Amazon). The Costa includes those provinces lying to the west of the Andes, including the country’s largest city and economic capital Guayaquil. The Sierra consists of the Andean and Interandean highland provinces, including the capital city, Quito. The Oriente or Amazon, the least populated region, consists of the Amazon jungle provinces. Most of the country’s indigenous population (at least 7% of the population) lives in the Oriente although they have always had a significant presence in the Sierra (but never in the Costa).

The regional divide in Ecuadorian politics has usually opposed the Costa (Guayaquil) and the Sierra (Quito), these two regions and their respective major cities being traditional rivals since independence. The coastal region’s economy, driven by cocoa and banana plantations, has usually been export-oriented. In contrast, the Sierra’s highland agricultural economy has usually been focused on domestic production. The Costa is commonly described as the ‘wealthy’ region against the ‘poorer’ inland regions, but this is a gross oversimplification. Although the Costa bourgeoisie and Guayaquil bankers gained significant influence over the country’s economy and politics (at the expense, oftentimes, of Sierra landowners), large swathes of the coastal regions remained deprived and marginalized.

In the decades which followed independence, the traditional Latin American political struggle between conservatives and liberals took place along regional lines in Ecuador. The protectionist, clerical and autocratic conservatives were backed by the Catholic Church and Sierran landowners who supported protectionist measures. The anti-clerical and pro-free trade liberals, who seized power from the conservatives in 1895, were supported by the Costa’s liberal bourgeoisie, who supported free trade. The liberal era lasted until the 1920s.

Beginning in the 1930s, Ecuadorian politics was a familiar succession of short-lived civilian rulers, fiery populists and military coups. One of the more prominent populist leaders of this era was José María Velasco Ibarra, who served as President on five occassions between the 1930s and the 1970s (1934-1935, 1944-1947, 1952-1956, 1960-1961, 1968-1972) although he only completed a full four-year term only once. Ibarra was a charismatic populist who captivated the masses, but he had no clear ideology of his own and he accomplished little during his various stints in power (unlike fellow populists leaders such as Perón or Vargas). In the early 1960s, he used nationalist and anti-American (pro-Cuban) rhetoric, which led the military to remove him from office in 1961 before taking power for themselves in 1963. Under a new constitution, Ibarra returned to office in 1968, but he became the hostage of the military which had intervened to guarantee him full powers over an opposition congress in 1970.

To prevent a fiery populist leader, Assad Bucaram, from winning the presidency, the military staged a coup in 1972; installing a left-nationalist regime similar to that of Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru. This military regime was replaced by another military junta in 1976, which prepared for re-democratization (which came with a new constitution in 1978).

Since 1978-1979, Ecuador has been a fragile and troubled multi-party democracy. Jaime Roldós, the young nephew of Assad Bucaram (the leader of the populist Guayaquil-based CFP party) won the first post-junta elections in 1978-1979. Roldós, much to the chagrin of the outgoing junta, defeated the regime’s conservative candidate, Sixto Durán Ballén, endorsed by the Sierra-based right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC).

Roldós quickly broke with the demagogic and populist Bucaram and began to implement an ambitious progressive agenda (social reforms, rural literacy) before his untimely death in a suspicious airplane crash in May 1981. With Roldós and Assad Bucaram’s death within months of each other, there was a contested battle for the leadership of the populist movement in the country. Ultimately, Abdalá Bucaram (Roldós’ brother-in-law), an histrionic and insane populist, proved a more able political leader than Osvaldo Hurtado, Roldós’ VP (and new President). Bucaram created his own party, the Ecuadorian Roldosist Party (PRE) as his own personal vehicle. During this time, the country’s economy was in a dire state. Hurtado renegotiated the country’s high public debt with the IMF and implemented austerity measures.

León Febres Cordero, an avid neoliberal businessman backed by the right (led by the PSC), won the 1984 elections; defeating Rodrigo Borja, the candidate of the left-wing Democratic Left (ID) in a runoff. LFC’s neoliberal austerity policies, including cutting subsidies for basic foodstuffs and reducing price controls, led to social protests. Any economic gains by his policies were destroyed by the international collapse in oil prices and later by a 1987 earthquake which crippled the country’s economy. Otherwise, LFC had a disastrous record: he confronted the congressional opposition (which often ended in physical violence, which was not unusual in Ecuador’s legislature), attempted to get rid of Abdalá Bucaram by forcing him into exile in Panama and getting Noriega to torture him (but this backfired as Abdalá Bucaram used it to boost his political capital), tried to abduct a general who denounced corruption, and committed numerous human rights abuses to destroy a small guerrilla movement.

Rodrigo Borja, a left-winger, defeated Abdalá Bucaram with 54% in the 1988 runoff. Borja’s presidency restored political and economic stability after LFC’s disastrous presidency, but he had his hands tied by an opposition congress (governed by a PSC-PRE coalition) which dropped the corruption charges against LFC and Bucaram (Borja had charged both of them with corruption after taking office), allowing Bucaram to return to the country from yet another Panamanian exile. The ID was unable to hold the presidency in the 1992 election, whose runoff featured an internecine right-wing battle between Jaime Nebot (PSC), LFC’s heir apparent; and Sixto Durán Ballén (who created a new right-wing party, PUR), who opposed LFC’s takeover of the PSC. The two right-wingers made the runoff benefiting from an amusing explosion of the populist vote between Abdalá Bucaram (PRE), Assad Bucaram’s son Averroes (CFP) and other candidates. Durán Ballén defeated the abrasive Nebot easily.

Durán Ballén delegated most tasks to his vice president, who had been LFC’s neoliberal finance minister. The government’s economic liberalization agenda faced widespread opposition and it too had to face off with an opposition congress which went out of its way to destroy the government.

Abdalá Bucaram, on his third attempt, finally won the presidency in 1996. He defeated Jaime Nebot (PSC) with 54.5% in the runoff. Abdalá Bucaram is truly a larger-than-life figure; he was a literally insane guy with a Hitler mustache who called himself el loco (the madman) and made good use of his histrionic style. Elected on a populist and demagogic platform consisting of foul-mouthed rants against the ‘oligarchs’. Bucaram apparently tried his hand at other jobs while being president: he started a singing career (releasing a crazy album) and appointed himself president of a football club in Guayaquil. His administration, naturally, was a train wreck. Like many populists of his kind, he got into office and implemented policies which he had campaigned against (in this case, economic liberalization). His government was also marked by widespread corruption and nepotism. Having alienated everybody around him, Bucaram was impeached by congress only six months into his term. Invariably, he fled to Panama.

The new president, Fabian Alarcón (leader of a small populist party and president of congress, Bucaram’s VP was forced to give up the presidency after a few days), called a constituent assembly which produced a new constitution in 1998. His presidency was marked by economic problems (falling oil prices) and more corruption. Jamil Mahuad, a former mayor of Quito running for the right-wing christian democratic DP, won the 1998 elections. He defeated Álvaro Noboa, a banana magnate and the richest man in Ecuador, who ran as Bucaram’s proxy for the PRE. Mahuad took 51.2% in the runoff against Noboa.

His term began smoothly, with congressional support for further privatizations and economic liberalization measures. But the economy worsened, with soaring inflation (up to 96% in 2000), the fall of world oil prices and a sharp drop in the value of the sucre (the national currency). Mahuad faced increasing opposition from both the left and the right. In January 2000, Mahuad ‘dollarized’ the economy by abandoning the sucre and adopting the US dollar. A few weeks later, he was overthrown in a coup led by Lucio Gutiérrez, a officer close to the leftist-nationalist sectors of the military. But the military stepped in to remove and arrest Gutiérrez, placing Mahuad’s VP, Gustavo Noboa, in the presidency in his stead. He successfully managed the dollarization of the economy and granted amnesty to the putsch leaders, including Gutiérrez.

Throughout the 1990s, Ecuador’s indigenous population had become a forceful actor in civil society through the formation of CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), an influential organization which defended indigenous interests and led protest movements against controversial government decisions. In 1996, CONAIE founded its own political wing, Pachakutik, which has had mixed electoral success at best. In the 2002 election, CONAIE strongly supported Lucio Gutiérrez, who is indigenous himself. Gutiérrez ran on a very left-wing populist and nationalist platform, strongly opposed to neoliberalism. He placed ahead of a very divided field in the first round, with Álvaro Noboa – now running on his own being fed up with Bucaram’s antics – placing second. Other candidates included León Roldós (Jaime’s brother), former president Borja, a PSC candidate and Abdalá Bucaram’s brother Jacobo. Gutiérrez, denounced by Noboa as a communist, won 54.8% in the runoff.

Elected as a leftist, Gutiérrez made a political 360 and governed as a right-winger – implementing an IMF austerity package and endorsing free trade with the US. Gutiérrez lost the backing of the left and his erstwhile indigenous allies, and failed to get much support from LFC’s PSC which focused its effort on a weird vendetta against Gustavo Noboa. Gutiérrez tried to hold on to power by allying with the PRE and stacking the courts (illegally) with supporters. Gutiérrez was finally removed from office in April 2005, following protests organized by a mass civilian movement with military support.

The 2006 election was another closely fought affair. Álvaro Noboa, the wealthy businessman running a bizarre messianic campaign, placed first in the first round, while Rafael Correa, a former minister in the outgoing government who ran a very leftist, anti-establishment campaign placed second. Lucio Gutiérrez’s brother Gilmar managed a healthy third place, while moderate leftist León Roldós placed a disappointing fourth after being seen as an early favourite. Noboa ran a poor campaign, and Correa easily defeated him in the runoff with 56.7%.

Correa’s immediate agenda was twofold: constitutional reform and economic reform. He wanted to call a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, a goal made tricky by the fact that his party – the Allianza PAIS – had not run candidates in the concurrent 2006 congressional elections. However, he managed to get congressional approval for a referendum to call a constituent assembly. Over 86% of voters approved Correa’s plan to call a constituent assembly in a 2007 referendum which was followed by elections to a constituent assembly in September 2007 in which Correa’s Allianza PAIS won an overwhelming majority (80/130 seats). The new constitution, approved by voters in 2008, strengthened the powers of the executive and allowed for an interventionist state as a guarantor of various collective rights (including environmental rights).

Many populist leaders throughout Ecuadorian history have campaigned (and won) on leftist, anti-austerity/anti-neoliberal and nationalist platforms; but few (if any) actually governed as such. Correa has proven to be the exception, being elected and governing as a leftist. Economically, Correa has supported interventionist economic policies aimed at alleviating poverty, supporting small businesses and farmers with micro-loans and guranteeing universal access to public education and healthcare. Notably, Correa significantly increased spending on the bono de desarrollo humano (BDH, human development grants) which are state grants provided to poor mothers, the elderly and the disabled. The BDH was created by Mahuad in 1998, but Correa significantly boosted the grants: from $11.5-15 to $30, later $35 and now $50. Correa also increased spending on healthcare, education (from 2.5% to 6% of GDP) and housing bonds. Correa’s economic and social policies have been financed in good part by windfalls from higher oil prices

Correa was reelected by the first round in 2009, winning about 52% of the vote against 28% for his closest rival, Lucio Gutiérrez.

Correa has played an active role on the foreign stage, emerging as one of the leading figures of the Latin American left alongside Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) and Evo Morales (Bolivia). In 2009, Ecuador joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a regional cooperation organization which is Chávez’s brainchild. With Chávez’s failing health, Correa – an ambitious leader who is still quite young and energetic – hopes to become the leading figure of the Latin American left and ALBA. In August 2012, Ecuador’s embassy in London granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, wanted on sexual assault charges in Sweden where he could face extradition to the United States over the WikiLeaks case. The Assange asylum case was likely an attempt by Correa to boost his standing on the world stage, cementing his reputation as an opponent of ‘American imperialism’. His administration has refused to support any free trade deals with either the US or the EU and in 2008, the country defaulted on its sovereign debt.

Correa faced increased opposition and criticism, from both the left and right, in his second term. In 2009, the country experienced rolling blackouts caused by droughts which had depleted hydroelectric reserves. In September 2010, Correa survived a coup attempt by the police (which opposed a new law on promotions). The police took Correa hostage after he had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a resolution to the crisis, but he was later saved by the army. The coup attempt was likely supported and organized by Lucio Gutiérrez.

Correa has been a vocal critic of the Ecuadorian media, which he claims are controlled by corrupt businessmen who seek to undermine his presidency; for example branding the critical media “corrupt, mercantilist …ink-wielding contract killers”. It is true that, upon becoming president in 2006, most of the media was hostile to Correa and in the hands of the opposition. Since then, he has worked to increase state control over the media, either by creating new state-owned media sources or seizing or shutting down privately-owned media. In July 2011, Correa won a libel action against a columnist for an opposition newspaper (El Universal) and even sentenced the columnist and three newspaper directors to jail (they were pardoned by Correa following international outcry). A new law in place for this election bars the media from ‘direct or indirect promotion’ of any candidate, opinion, voting preference or ideology. Since 2006, Ecuador fell from 56th to 119th in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. Opponents and journalists have thus found Correa’s support for Julian Assange (in the name of free speech) to be quite hypocritical.

Constitutional amendments which have increased the president’s power over the courts (among others) were approved in a referendum in May 2011, the opposition denounced the amendments as presidential “power grabs”.

In 2012, the government faced a large protests organized by CONAIE. The indigenous organization criticized the granting of mining concessions to a Chinese company without prior consultations with indigenous communities and in apparent disregard of environmental impacts. The movement petered out rather quickly, the government alleged that CONAIE had been bought by foreign corporations and the right.

Candidates

Rafael Correa ran for a third term in office, the second under the new 2008 constitution. Despite the vocal opposition of the right and even some on the left, Correa has remained extremely popular throughout his two terms. His approval rating has hovered around 80%. His Vice President since 2007 has been Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic man whose work in office to improve the conditions for disabled persons in the country is widely respected and recognized. He is retiring this year. Correa picked one of his ministers, Jorge Glas, a technocrat with low name recognition, as his new running mate. There is a chance that Correa, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a fourth/third term in the next election and who has said that he does not wish to change this constitutional provision, is promoting Glas to succeed him.

Correa is the candidate of the Allianza PAIS (PAIS, which means country in Spanish, offically stands for Patria Altiva I Soberana or Pround and Sovereign Fatherland). Originally a minor personalist vehicle founded for Correa to contest the 2006 election, the party is now the dominant political party in Ecuador. Left-wing critics of the administration claim that the new king’s party has been taken over by opportunists and recycled politicians with ties to the old regime. Indeed, Vinicio Alvarado (Correa’s public administration secretary) supported both Abdalá Bucaram and Jaime Nebot in the past. To build itself up as a major party, Allianza PAIS actively recruited veteran politicians and local caciques including many with links to populist or right-wing parties such as the PSC.

Correa’s main opponent was Guillermo Lasso, a Guayaquil businessman. Lasso is the former head of the Banco de Guayaquil and is closely tied to the economic capital’s business milieus, although he has held appointed political positions in the past: appointed governor of Guayas province and a short time as Jamil Mahuad’s minister of the economy. Lasso describes himself as a centrist liberal (on economic matters); Correa has painted him as a right-winger who would bring the country back to the ‘old regime’. Lasso was quite desperate to present himself as a centrist and play down his more conservative positions (he is a self-avowed admirer of José María Aznar’s reforms in Spain between 1996 and 2004) or past (he is a member of the Opus Dei and WikiLeaks alleged he was an informant for the US embassy). Lasso was the one who originally proposed to raise the BDH grants to $50, which Correa took up and got approved by the National Assembly. His platform included abolishing nine taxes, hiring more police officers, less bureaucracy and state intervention in the economy to promote job creation and private enterprise and a constitutional ban on immediate reelection.

Lasso is backed by a new coalition, Creando Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities, CREO – creo is the first person singular conjugation of the Spanish verbs for believe [creer] and create [crear] in the present). Lasso’s candidacy is also endorsed by a bunch of old parties, including the ID (which actually lost its registration), the PSC (moribund since LFC died in 2008 and Jaime Nebot left the party), and whatever is left of the old Liberal Party (PLRE) – which is to say nothing. Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot’s party, MCMG, also enthusiastically supported Lasso. The popular mayor of the country’s largest city, Nebot has been one of Correa’s main opponents, but he does not seem to have national ambitions.

Former president Lucio Gutiérrez, who ran for president in 2002 (won) and 2009 and had his brother run in 2006, ran for a third time. Gutiérrez, a former leftist military officer who led the 2000 coup against Jamil Mahuad, is an indigenous Ecuadorian from Napo province in the Oriente. His 2002 presidential campaign was very left-wing, nationalist and populist; his disastrous presidency between 2003-2005 was the complete opposite. Gutiérrez was originally endorsed by CONAIE and Pachakutik in 2002, but they quickly disowned him when he reversed his ideological direction once in office (CONAIE also feared Gutiérrez was trying to kill them off); and although both movements have opposed him since then, Gutiérrez retains very strong support with indigeneous Ecuadorians in the Oriente (and some mixed-blood voters in the Sierra) who feel that Gutiérrez embodies their desires for social advancement. In the 2009 election, in the absence of a credible right-wing candidate, Gutiérrez placed a fairly ‘strong’ distant second with 28%. He won over 50% of the vote in the Oriente, including over 70% in his native Napo and won encouraging results on the Costa and in the Sierra. He has been one of the administration’s most vocal critics, and he is suspected of having played a major role in the 2010 coup attempt.

Gutiérrez, the boss of the ‘January 21 Patriotic Society Party’ (PSP), has seemingly fully embraced his transformation into a right-wing populist. His platform included the imposition of visas on all foreigners, a census on all foreigners living in Ecuador (there are many Colombian refugees fleeing the conflicts in Colombia in the border provinces), allowing all citizens to carry firearms, withdrawal from ALBA, large tax cuts and various other crazy populist proposals.

Álvaro Noboa, who ran for president in 1998, 2002, 2006 (runoff) and 2009 ran for a fifth straight time. Noboa is said to be the wealthiest man in Ecuador, having made his fortune in his family’s banana empire. He is a rather controversial man, with serious accusations of child labour and labour abuses on his banana plantations and charges of tax evasion (he could be owing over $99 million in taxes). Most argue that he has used his immense personal wealth to buy votes. Noboa’s political career began in the 1998 election when he ran as Abdalá Bucaram’s puppet for the PRE. He quickly broke with Bucaram and started his own personality cult, the Institutional Renewal Party of National Action (PRIAN) and has run under that banner in the last three elections. The 2006 election was the peak of his career, placing first in the first round and heading to the runoff against Correa. Originally expected to win, Noboa was trounced in the runoff. He won only 11% in the 2009 election, the PRIAN having started to disintegrate and lose its shine after the 2006 election.

In 2006, Noboa had run on a right-wing populist, pro-business and vaguely neo-liberal platform. He could be considered a right-winger, though like most Ecuadorian politicians of his generation he has no coherent ideology. For example, this year, Noboa’s campaign branded itself as ‘centre-left’ and supported various populist inanities including tax cuts for everybody, cutting the retirement age, recruiting Rudy Giuliani to fight crime and other things.

The youngest contender was Mauricio Rodas, an outsider running for his new party – the United Society for More Action (SUMA) – and presenting himself as a progressive centrist. He is also backed by the Sierra-based Evangelical Indigenous Federation, an evangelical conservative grouping which had backed Gutiérrez in 2009.

Alberta Acosta was the candidate for left-wing opponents of Correa. Acosta is an economist who was originally a close supporter of Correa and his government’s Revolución Ciudadana, he served as energy minister in 2006-2007 and then as president of the constituent assembly until 2008. At that point, Acosta broke with Correa. Left-wing opponents of Correa have criticized his government’s recent turn on environmental policies (originally rather green, Correa now supports oil drilling in parts of the Amazon and issued controversial mining concessions to a Chinese company), his autocratic tendencies and his confrontational relation with left-wing social movements. Correa has shown little tolerance for vocal criticism, quickly denouncing critics as lackeys of foreign interests or even saboteurs.

Acosta is the candidate of the Plurinational Unity of the Lefts (Unidad Plurinacional de las Izquierdas), a coalition with includes Pachakutik/CONAIE (the CONAIE has been quite critical of the government since 2007), the MPD (an erstwhile far-left tied to a teachers union and strong with Afro-Ecuadorians), various former Correa supporters and small far-left parties.

Nelson Závala is the candidate of the PRE, the party which is still controlled by crazy populist Abdalá Bucaram (now in Panamanian exile to escape the Ecuadorian justice). The PRE’s sole goal is getting Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile (though without going to jail once he’s back). Závala ran a weird religious fundamentalist campaign which was particularly homophobic.

Norman Wray was the candidate of Ruptura 25, another anti-Correa leftist party. Wray and his party emphasize women and LGBT rights.

Results

Voting is mandatory in Ecuador. Results are still being processed, they are presented as follows: the results of the CNE’s conteo rápido on election night (unofficial) and official CNE results with 83.1% of precincts reporting:

Rafael Correa (Allianza PAIS) 56.7% / 56.67%
Guillermo Lasso (CREO) 23.3% / 22.89%
Lucio Gutiérrez (PSP) 6.6% / 6.92%
Mauricio Rodas (SUMA) 4.0% / 4.01%
Álvaro Noboa (PRIAN) 3.7% / 3.66%
Alberto Acosta (MPD-PK) 3.2% / 3.30%
Norman Wray (Ruptura 25) 1.3% / 1.36%
Nelson Závala (PRE) 1.2% / 1.18%

Ecuador 2013

map based on preliminary election night CNE results

Results for the National Assembly according to Participación Ciudadana‘s conteo rápido and the CNE’s official results with 83.2% reporting. The unofficial and incomplete (131 seats) has been published in some newspapers and by the Spanish Wikipedia.

PAIS 51.6% / 52.02% winning 91 seats
CREO 11.5% / 11.68% winning 12 seats
PSC 9.1% / 8.67% winning 6 seats
PSP 5.9% / 5.77% winning 6 seats
MPD-PK 4.8% / 4.80% winning 6 seats
PRE 4.4% / 4.39% winning 1 seat
SUMA 3.3% / 3.29% winning 1 seat
Avanza 3% / 3.01% winning 5 seats
PRIAN 2.9% / 2.98%
Ruptura 25 2.6% / 2.57%
PS-FA 0.8% / 0.81%
Others (?) winning 3 seats

President Correa was easily reelected by the first round. He won about 57% of the vote, placing about 33 points ahead of his closest rival. His party, Allianza PAIS, also came out strengthened from the election. The governing party had fallen just short of an absolute majority in the National Assembly in 2009, this year it will certainly come out with an absolute majority in the legislature – perhaps even a two-thirds majority. Changes to the electoral system, including the use of the d’Hondt method (which favours larger parties) and alleged gerrymandering in the creation of subdistricts in the three largest provinces, have certainly helped the governing party do as well as it did.

Unlike his predecessors, Correa has remained extremely popular throughout his time in office to date. To begin with, Correa represents political and institutional stability in a country which was a poster child for political (and economic) instability prior to his election in 2006. Since 1996, no directly elected president had managed to complete their four-year terms. Faced with gargantuan challenges including endemic poverty, a weak economy, widespread corruption, a powerful and politically interventionist military and an often hostile and confrontational opposition in Congress; past presidents either proved incompetent in face of these challenges or found the country entirely ungovernable. Correa has not only managed to serve out all his terms in office, if he completes his current term he will have the longest uninterrupted time as president in Ecuadorian history.

Correa’s widespread and genuine popularity is due, in good part, to high oil prices. Like in Venezuela, the government has been able to take maximum advantage of the surge in oil revenues by using the country’s oil wealth to boost social spending on successful programs and income grants which have manage to alleviate poverty and enhance the living conditions of many low-income Ecuadorians. Correa’s policies have made healthcare and education far more accessible for the country’s poor. Between 2006 and 2011, the poverty rate decreased from 37.6% to 28.6%; the HDI increase and income inequality declined somewhat. Even if some administrations in the past may have had good intentions, few – if any – ever came close to achieving such successes.

By defaulting on the sovereign debt and becoming a vocal leader of the Latin American left, Correa has also reignited a sense of national pride for many Ecuadorians after the humiliating economic catastrophes of the 1980s and 1990s, most significantly the collapse of the sucre and the ‘dollarization’ of the economy in 2000. Correa is a forceful opponent of the IMF, foreign corporations and bankers; he contends that under his presidency, the country is “no longer for sale”. The opposition and the business community says that Correa has alienated foreign investors with his nationalist and interventionist policies and his decision to default on the sovereign debt. But these criticisms hold little weight for most voters.

Like Chávez and others, Correa has not hesitated to paint a stark contrast between the growth, prosperity and stability under his presidency and the instability, chaos and poverty in the past. Throughout the campaign, he warned voters against returning to the old days and has painted his political rivals – especially Guillermo Lasso – as the pawns of foreign corporations or the representatives of the old oligarchic political order. Unlike Chávez, however, Correa has not done anything or actually had the time to become unpopular with a large segment of the electorate. He has vocal opponents both on the right and the left, but their actual electoral strength is fairly weak.

The opposition, since 2006, has remained divided and largely unable to cope with the political changes wrought by Correa’s presidency. Correa thoroughly discredited and destroyed all the old parties (although in large part they are responsible for their own self-destruction), particularly the PSC. There are signs that the opposition might be changing and adapting to new circumstances. Lasso, the runner-up with 23% (not too bad of a result for him), was certainly a much more credible (and untainted) opponent than either Lucio Gutiérrez or Álvaro Noboa. But despite Lasso’s attempt to moderate his right-wing liberal image and appear as a credible centrist alternative, he remained too tied up with the old political right and could not deflect Correa’s numerous attacks. However, in a welcome break from the past, Lasso conceded defeat to Correa quickly and with style. Noboa, in his trademarked style, seems to be refusing to recognize the results and might claim (again) that he was robbed.

Guillermo Lasso and his new coalition/party (if it endures) have become the only major opponents to Correa, although with the president and his party in full control of the executive and legislative branches (and many would say judicial branch as well), he will not have much weight politically. Former president Lucio Gutiérrez, who placed second in 2009, performed very poorly, taking only 6.9% or so of the vote. In 2009, the former president had benefited from the absence of a conservative candidates (besides the discredited and damaged goods Noboa) to perform quite well, especially in regions (such as the Costa) where he had been weak in the past.

In geographic terms, Correa won every province except Napo, Gutiérrez’s native province where he still managed about 48% of the vote. The major change in the geography of the vote was Correa’s very strong performance in Guayas province (home to Guayaquil), where he had been weaker in the past. He won 63.6% in the country’s most populous province, performing better than he did in Pichincha province (Quito) where he won 57.9%. The president also performed below his native average in the Costa provinces of Los Ríos, Santa Elena and Manabí. He performed well in the Sierra (his original base), though likely not as well as on the Costa. Because of strong indigenous support for Gutiérrez but also Acosta and even Lasso, the Oriente remained Correa’s weakest region.

El Comercio‘s analysis ascribed Correa’s victory on the Costa, the traditional bases of populists such as Bucaram in the past, to the support of new middle-classes and local businessmen who have benefited from public investment and new consumers. In Guayas, Correa’s very strong result and Lasso’s mediocre showing (20.8%) is also a major defeat for Guayaquil’s right-wing mayor, Jaime Nebot, who was Lasso’s most prominent local support. Correa had received the support of the elected prefect of the province, Jimmy Jairala – a former right-winger – who might run for mayor of the country’s economic capital in 2014.

In his victory speech, Correa promised to deepen his Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution) agenda by further increasing social spending and public investment to reduce poverty even further. As long as the government’s policies can be backed up by high oil prices and sky-high oil revenues, Correa will be in no immediate trouble. His supporters – the bulk of the population – will not worry much about his ‘dark side’ (his poor record on press freedom or his autocratic tendencies). That being said, some analysts question the long-term sustainability of his policies. The public sector has grown tremendously under his watch and there are increasing concerns about how Correa will be able to pay for his Revolución Ciudadana. Correa’s decision to spend rather than to save oil revenues, as well as declining oil production and private investment in the industry could spell trouble in the future. Opponents will continued to be concerned by Correa’s heavy-handed tactics against the opposition media, including controversial new media legislation.

As per the 2008 constitution, Correa may not seek reelection in 2017. Fresh from a landslide victory, Correa says that he has no intention of changing this and that he will not try to run again the next election. However, a lot of people seem to have trouble taking this at face value, given that he would not be the first Latin American leader to pledge that he would not run again before changing his mind as the end of his term draws nearer. Does Correa have the trappings of a modern Latin American populist caudillo like Hugo Chávez before him? Or does he lack the ambition and clout to become such a leader, with influence and power outside the borders of his own country?

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Posted on February 20, 2013, in Ecuador. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I generally don’t follow South American politics, but this is a surprisingly interesting post on what on the surface would seem to be a rather unsurprising, uninteresting result.

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