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ECUADOR
Correa dominates at the polls, courts the right
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
2/21/2013
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President will control the Legislature, which will allow him to govern without political alliances.

 

Rafael Correa was reelected Feb. 17 as Ecuador’s president by a broad margin that reflects the consolidation of his political movement, Country Alliance. And with 56 percent of the vote, he has enough legitimacy to move his government plan forward and pass laws that have stalled in the National Assembly due to opposition from several groups.

The win for Correa, whose new term will be up in 2017, is based on at least three pillars. Chief among them is extensive social work around the country, which demonstrates the transformation Ecuador has undergone in Correa’s first six years in power.

“Resource allocation shows the government’s orientation toward the Citizens’ Revolution, it shows who rules the country: here, citizens rule, not de facto groups that prioritize external debt, that prioritize the needs of bankers,” Correa said in his first public appearance after the election results were announced, referring to the social investments made by his administration, which he said will continue into his next term. “We are going to do exactly what we have been doing,” he added.

A second element important to his victory had to do with media capabilities and the handling of information. During the campaign, government reports about the projects it completed multiplied, and Vinicio Alvarado, secretary of Public Administration, again managed that marketing. The motto, said Alvarado, was to campaign “from scratch, as if [Correa] had no advantage.” Indeed, this media hype overshadowed propaganda efforts by opposition candidates, both in quantity and quality.

Media presence

Moreover, the management of both public media and the private media seized in 2008 by the government (as a measure to recover the money spent by the state to bail out private banks that went bankrupt in 1999 and owned those media outlets) increased the president’s image in the media agenda. According to a report by the firm Participación Ciudadana released Feb. 15, Correa’s media presence doubled, and in some cases tripled, compared to other candidates. On TV, the report noted, Correa received 2,297 minutes of airtime; Guillermo Lasso followed with 1,225 minutes, and Mauricio Rodas with 998 minutes.

Lasso, of the Creating Opportunities movement, or CREO, earned 23.3 percent of the vote, followed by ex-President Lucio Gutiérrez (2003-2005), of the Patriotic Society Party, with 6.6 percent. Rodas, of the United Society Plus Action, or SUMA, came in fourth with 4 percent, while the remaining four candidates didn’t garner above 3.7 percent each, according to early numbers from Ecuador’s National Electoral Council.

The third and crucial element to Correa’s reelection was the opposition that, except for Lasso, was incapable of finding a message to identify with and pose as a counterweight to the president’s proposals. By focusing on discrediting the president, they achieved the opposite, instead strengthening the incumbent, since those challenges went up against proof of what the administration had accomplished. Alberto Acosta (3.2 percent), of the Unity of the Left, and Gutiérrez lost the most votes by not focusing on an ideological campaign.

“It was a major defeat for the demagogues, for particracy, for the naysayers. But we also see that an ideological right has gained strength, which is good, as we can now debate, we can talk,” Correa said.

He was referring to Lasso as the new leader of the Ecuadoran right, someone with whom he said he could maintain a conversation. On the other hand, Correa made no reference to the indigenous movements or to the left, which helped him reach power in 2007, thus defining the space for dialogue he will encourage in the new National Assembly, in which at least 92 of the 136 members — the two-thirds majority needed to pass laws, like the Communications, Water, or Penal Code bills (the latter of which radicalizes how sabotage and terrorism are treated by the penal system) — are aligned with the president.

Lasso was nonetheless pleased with the showing by his political movement, which is barely a year old.

“We have earned legitimately a quarter of the vote,” he said. “Therefore, we will be legitimately a real opposition within Ecuador.”

During the campaign, Lasso avoided confrontation with the president, even when his meetings and campaign contributions in support of Correa’s 2006 campaign were brought to light. Instead, he focused his campaign on ideas regarding ecology and prior consultation — pillars of the Ecuadorian left — that even overshadowed Acosta’s campaign.
“If the communities don’t want it, there will be no mining on their lands,” and “Yasuní will not be drilled, whether or not there is money,” were two statements of great impact that aligned environmentalists, indigenous people and campesinos with Lasso, seeking to force a runoff with Correa, but to no avail. Correa has asked for international funding cooperation as compensation for not drilling the Yasuní National Park for oil, although reports from the media and social organizations are alluding to a “Plan B” for exploration there, in case the government does not secure the funding to keep the oil in the ground.

Absolute control

Correa has become the president who has it all. Not only does he have power over other government branches, but the problems he had in the National Assembly have been resolved by the two-thirds majority now in place for his party. This clears the path for passing laws and constitutional reforms without needing to collaborate with other political groups.

The strength of his victory threatens constitutional guarantees that are a barrier to mining policies promoted by Correa — guarantees the president has called for eliminating or limiting, like the Rights of Nature and the Protective Action, the latter of which covers all the rights recognized in the Constitution of 2008, and which is used repeatedly by social movements and indigenous groups.

This triumph has prompted the government to deepen its self-sufficiency, as expressed by the Acting Vice President Lenin Moreno, when he said during the victory rally for Correa: “Those who want to stay out of the citizen’s revolution, that’s their problem.” — Latinamerica Press.


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President Correa waves from the Government Palace to the crowd celebrating his reelection. (Photo: Carlos Martínez-Clickñan)
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