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ECUADOR
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
11/6/2002
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A center-left government would

The first-round victory of retired Col. Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador’s Oct. 20 presidential election was also a triumph for the country’s indigenous movement.

The results, which were not predicted by pre-election polls, represented a stunning loss for the nation’s traditional political parties, which had expected to win.

Gutiérrez, leader of the Patriotic Society, a coalition of indigenous groups and left-wing movements, received 21 percent of the votes to win the first round. According to Ecuador’s election rules, a run off is necessary if no candidate receives 50 percent of the votes. Gutiérrez will now face Alvaro Noboa, the country’s richest man, in a Nov. 24 runoff. Noboa led a crowded field of candidates for most the election race, but his campaign began to stall in the weeks before the voting. He received 17.4% percent (LP, Oct. 21, 2002).

"The people will have to chose between a radical, Chinese-style communist party and a businessman who can create jobs," said Noboa.

The communist party comment referred to Gutiérrez’s electoral alliance with the People’s Democratic Party, a Maoist group, and other left-wing parties.

"If you want to be governed by Fidel Castro or [Hugo] Chávez, then vote for Gutiérrez, but if you want democracy, a man who knows the economy and business, a man with faith in God, then the people will vote for Alvaro Noboa," he added.

His first reaction is expected to set the tone for the month-long run-off campaign. Noboa is the candidate of the Alvaro Noboa Independent Renewal Party (PRIAN), which he created several years ago.

Gutiérrez refused to comment on his opponent’s charges, instead sticking to the issues that he focused on during the campaign, such as cleaning up corruption and promising to extradite and try bankers who made off with depositors’ savings (LP, Mar. 13, 2000).

"We want to install a transparent dialogue with honest businesspeople, farmers, students, workers, women and children, because children also know what they want. We want to talk to everyone to pull the country from the grips of corruption. We want to create jobs, because we want people to stop fleeing this immense and rich nation," said Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez’s comments, however, did not stop a wave of speculation caused by his unexpected victory. Ecuadorian bonds on the New York Stock Exchange fell by six points the day after the election.

The losing candidates reacted even more harshly than the markets, criticizing the remaining rivals.

"The Ecuadorian people once more have voted for an adventure," said former President León Febres Cordero (1984-88). "They have chosen between nothing, represented by Noboa, and the left of Gutiérrez."

The results have placed traditional parties, such as Febres Cordero’s right-wing Social Christian Party, in an uncomfortable position. This is the first time that one of the major parties does not have a candidate in a presidential runoff, despite having won an important number of local and congressional races.

The best showing for a traditional party was the fourth place finish by former President Rodrigo Borja (1988-92), of the Democratic Left Party. The worst was registered by another former president, Osvaldo Hurtado (1981-84), who only received 1 percent of the votes. Hurtado could not overcome the specter of having supported Jamil Mahuad, who was forced from the presidency in January 2000, less than two years into office. Mahuad was removed by a coalition of military officers, including Gutiérrez, and indigenous groups (NA, Feb. 7, 2000).

The third place finisher was León Roldos, of the Socialist Party, which did well in the coastal province of Guayas, home to 25 percent of the country’s voters. Guayas, where Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city is located, has long been split between Febres Cordero’s party and the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party, led by former President Abdalá Bucaram.

Bucaram was elected in 1996, but impeached less than one year into his term because of accusations of rampant corruption. He leads the party from his exile in Panama.

"The new movements and political parties did not break the ties of the traditional parties in the provinces, despite breaking the grip at the national level," said political analyst Luis Eladio Proaño.

The indigenous movement, represented today by an alliance between the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) achieved its objective of consolidating its presence in the National Congress, with approximately 15 representatives.

"Our objective was winning at the local level, but we are more than happy that we now have the winning candidate [at the national level]," said Leonidas Iza, CONAIE president.

Breakaway indigenous candidate Antonio Vargas did much worse, coming in last in the presidential election with only 0.67 percent of the votes.

"Vargas paid for what he did. Now he knows that he does not represent the indigenous movement," said Iza.

Vargas did not carry his home city, Puyo, capital of the jungle Pastaza Province. Gutiérrez carried Puyo.

The indigenous movement now has the chance to participate in a center-left government led by Gutiérrez. The potential success also brings challenges. This is the first time the indigenous movement has a real shot at forming part of a governing system that it has fought since its first uprising in 1990. But Iza is not too concerned.

"We have seen the bull from afar, but now it seems like it is our turn to be the matador," he said.


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