Ecuador: An Election Primer

Feb 12, 2013
By Gustavo Palacio
According to official statements, the outcome of Ecuador’s February 17 general election is already determined and there is little that competing candidates can do to stop Rafael Correa from serving another four-year term, thereby following the footsteps of role model Hugo Chávez who has stayed in office for 14 years in Venezuela. The president’s supporters are also convinced that Correa’s lead will ensure their candidates a place in the 124-seat National Assembly. However, not all of those polls show the president with a lead strong enough to have at least 40 percent of the vote and a 10-point advantage over the closest rival, which is what Correa must obtain to avoid a runoff on April 7.  
Correa supporters base their anticipated victory on a group of polls from October to January that show a 50-60 percent preference for the president, followed by candidates Guillermo Lasso and Lucio Gutiérrez with generally less than 20 percent each. From the official perspective, this strong support is the result of Correa’s “citizen revolution” achievements: new highways, subsidies for the poor, as well as an increase in health and education spending, thanks to the high prices for Ecuadoran oil. Moreover, Correa supporters assume that a big part of the population that lives under the poverty line (about 30 percent) will vote for him.
Other surveys point to a different view.  A November poll by the Market organization found Correa had 39 percent and Lasso 25 percent.  Most recently, newspapers reported a survey by the Mexican firm Arcop that showed 38 percent of voters preferred the president to almost 30 percent for Guillermo Lasso, with all other competitors falling below 10 percent. 
The polls also show that security and unemployment are the major public concerns. They coincide with a slow but steady decline in Correa’s popularity from 2007 to the present. That could be the consequence of the government’s problems addressing crime, unemployment and cost of living, and a long list of corruption scandals allegedly involving senior government officials. Worries over creeping authoritarianism connected to policies that seek to silence criticism within the media may also be a factor.  
Some analysts believe true voter intentions may not be showing up in all the polls. They suggest that voter backlash against Correa is possible and that it could help Lasso and Gutierrez, or even Acosta and Rodas. Against that backdrop, the presidential ballot shapes up as follows:  
Rafael Correa (PAIS Alliance): The incumbent is an economist who graduated from the Catholic University of Guayaquil and obtained a master’s degree in Belgium and a Master’s and PhD in the United States. He was minister of finance for four months during the administration of President Alfredo Palacio, and before that, taught at the University of San Francisco de Quito. He is considered charismatic and populist. With a mix of ideas from the left and right, he proposes an extractive model of development and an economic model of state-led capitalism. Politically, he tends to favor authoritarian government. At the international level, his government is a member of the Bolivarian alliance created by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.  
Guillermo Lasso (Creating Opportunities Movement): So far, the strongest opposition candidate. Lasso is a self-made man who started to work when he was 16 years old.  A former entrepreneur and banker, he has worked for short periods with previous governments. Lasso proposes a market approach to development, based on education and entrepreneurship, including microenterprise, with the support of the State. Lasso also proposes a centrist path, with a social democratic orientation, with an independent judiciary and freedom of expression. He has promised not to exploit the Yasuni National Park reserve, home of isolated indigenous tribes. 
Lucio Gutiérrez (January 21 Patriotic Society Party):  A former president and important political leader, also has some potential to pass to the second round in the elections. A former army colonel, he is known for his participation in a coup that took former president Jamil Mahuad from office, with the support of Ecuador’s social movements.  In 2002, he ran for president and won, pledging to reverse neoliberal reforms, policies he subsequently continued.  In 2005, he dismissed the Supreme Court and was impeached by Congress.  He sought asylum in Brazil, but returned to face justice, was jailed, then pardoned. Repentant for earlier mistakes, Gutiérrez proposes a free market model, keeping existing social programs, and fighting corruption.  He has promised to eliminate the reelection clause introduced by Correa in the new constitution. 
Alberto Acosta (Plurinational Union of the Left):  An intellectual and a political leader with a long record of affinity with the social movements. He supported Correa’s presidential candidacy after he resigned as President Alfredo Palacio’s minister of finance in 2005. He was part of Correa’s cabinet as minister of energy and later presided over the Constituent Assembly that wrote the new constitution until Correa disagreed with his views and forced him to resign. Acosta has promised to restore democracy, to promote sustainable development with the participation of the state and private sector, and preserve Ecuador’s natural spaces. Acosta authored an initiative to protect the Yasuni reserve.
Alvaro Noboa (Institutional Renewal Party of National Action):  Considered the wealthiest man in Ecuador, son of a successful entrepreneur who made his fortune in bananas. Noboa ran for president in 1998 with the support of the populist leader Abdala Bucarám and his party, losing to Jamil Mahuad. Running in 2006, he won the first round, though he lost in the second to Rafael Correa. Noboa proposes a free market economic model. Yet, he has promised to continue Correa’s extractive policies in order to finance health and education. He also has promised to change the constitution to eliminate the reelection.
Nelson Zavala (Ecuadoran Roldosista Party):  Candidate for Abdala Bucarám’s populist Roldosista Party, which supported Correa until last year. Zavala is an assembly member and evangelical preacher with strong conservative beliefs. His main proposal is to restore ethical and moral values in the educational system. Like others, he has promised to respect democracy and human rights.  And he has pledged to prosecute Correa and members of his government for corruption. Ecuador’s gay community has criticized Zavala for some of his social commentary.  
Mauricio Rodas (Societal Movement for More United Action):  An energetic attorney who founded an organization in Mexico for the promotion of democracy and development called “Ethos.” Rodas is an outsider and some analysts believe he could surge ahead, though polls show no such indication. He portrays himself as the only candidate with no links to the old political system. After his return to Ecuador to participate in the campaign, he founded the Societal Movement for More United Action (SUMA) to promote responsible government.  He backs sustainable development and abolishing presidential reelection.  
Norman Wray (Rupture 25):  A young lawyer and environmental activist, Wray is a member of the movement Ruptura de los 25 that formed part of Correa’s Alianza PAIS coalition. He was member of the Constituent Assembly in 2008 and, later, the National Assembly. He was elected member of the Quito Metropolitan Council and supported Correa until 2011, when Ruptura broke with the Alianza. Wray advocates investment in health and education. He promises to restore democracy, respect the division of powers, and favors an independent judiciary.
Ecuadorans have plenty of choices.  However, it is too hard to say at this point whether there will be a strong turnout on election day, and whether Correa, the leading candidate, will have enough votes to win on the first ballot. 
Gustavo Palacio is a political analyst and former Ecuadoran diplomat.
Photo: Recinta Electoral 
Credit: Valentina Brevi, FLICKR, Creative Commons