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Ecuador Elections to Test President Moreno and Governing Party Following Split

by Jonathan Nack
Lenin Moreno, President of Ecuador

The election also comes midway through President Moreno's four year term, and will be seen as a measure of his popularity. Opinion polls published this month showed Moreno's approval rating has plummeted, continuing a year long decline.
CUENCA, ECUADOR - Sectional elections will be held throughout Ecuador this Sunday, March 24, 2019. At stake are the election in all 24 of the country's provinces of prefects (the highest elected official in a province), mayors, and urban and rural municipal council seats.

The election occurs in the context of a stagnating Ecuadorian economy. The government of President Lenín Moreno has implemented budget cuts and layoffs, and also negotiated new loan agreements with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to deal with Ecuador's budget deficit and national debt. Ecuador, OPEC's smallest producing member country, nevertheless the government receives significant income from oil exports and has suffered in recent years from low oil prices.
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The election also comes midway through President Moreno's four year term, and will be seen as a measure of his popularity. Opinion polls published this month showed Moreno's approval rating has plummeted, continuing a year long decline.

President Moreno has broken sharply with the politics of his predecessor, former President Rafael Correa. Moreno had worked closely with Correa for many years, served as Correa's Vice President for 6 years, from 2007 to 2013 (and narrowly won election as President with Correa campaigning for him). Despite all this, Moreno dramatically turned against Correa only months after being elected President. Moreno accused the Correa and his government of rampant corruption, running up the national debt, and cronyism in government and judicial appointments, including the stacking Ecuador's highest courts.

Since then, government prosecutors have been investigating Correa for allegedly ordering the kidnapping of an opposition lawmaker who was hiding from Ecuadorian justice in Colombia, as well as allegations of corruption. Correa was ordered to appear in court in Ecuador, and when he declined, offering to testify via video link instead, a warrant was issued for Correa's arrest. Numerous figures in Correa's administration have been and are being prosecuted on corruption charges.

Moreno's own Vice President, Jorge Glas, a close associate of Correa, was arrested, tried for corruption, convicted, and is now in prison. Glas has continued to insist he is innocent and at one point went on a long hunger strike while in prison. [ ] This past January, a story damaging to Glas was published was r that a telecommunication company, named Teleconet, had agreed to return $13.5 Million to invested by Glas' uncle to the government of Ecuador, because it was said to be “corrupt money”.
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Ecuador requested that Interpol issue an arrest warrant for Correa, who currently lives in Belgium, but Interpol rejected the request, stating that the evidence presented wasn't strong enough to order the arrest of the former President. Interpol practically said that Ecuador's case against Correa was likely politically motivated.
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Moreno has returned to neoliberal economic policies as reflected in the loan agreements negotiated with the International Monetary Fund and World bank, in sharp contrast to Correa's severing of relations with those institutions. He has also changed the country's geopolitical orientation and warmed relations with the United States, eschewing Correa's anti-imperialist rhetoric, while turning away from former leftist allies such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba. Moreno has recognized U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó as the interim President of Venezuela.
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Moreno has sought dialog, consensus and compromise with many of Ecuador's diverse political factions, including those representing the oligarchy and moneyed classes, rather than adopt Correa's more combative approach.

While Moreno has changed many policies and moved markedly to the right, he has also sought to retain some credibility in left circles too. In an interview, Moreno claimed he was a new type of socialist, using the ideology of the right to produce, while the government distributes equitably and helps the poor according to the ideology of the left.[ ]

Moreno said in 2018 speech at the United Nations that politics are successful when they serve everyone, especially “the poorest and the abandoned.” [ ] He has also sought to be seen as a champion against government corruption, a deeply rooted problem with a very long history, highlighted by the prosecutions of leading figures from Correa's government, and even his own.

Moreno has won praise from the U.S. and its allies. The corporate media has lauded his new approach as a restoration of democratic norms, including freedom of the press, as opposed to their narrative about Correa's dictatorial and undemocratic tendencies. However, his popularity among Ecuadorians has taken a nose dive from 75 percent approval in early 2018, to only 30 percent in the very recent poll.

Two Ecuadorian s polling organizations, Cedatos and Pefiles de Opinion, announced their findings at a press conference on March 7th. "The population realizes that this economic restructuring was not taking place, this real fight against corruption was not taking place (...) and that made the approval of the president turn downward," said Polibio Córdova, President of Cedatos, according to a report by the Reuters news service. Perfiles de Opinion's Director, Paulina Recalde, revealed that its survey found that 80 percent of respondents believe that the government is on "the wrong road."
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Though President Moreno will not be on the ballot in Sunday's elections, nor will any seats in the National Assembly be up, the President's party, Alianza PAIS (“AP”), has a lot to lose. It, along with allied parties, currently holds the majority of the prefectures, mayor's offices, and local council seats in the country. AP, by itself has 11 of the 24 prefects, 67 of 221 mayors, and 527 of 1305 council seats in the country.
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By comparison, the party with the next most sectional offices, Avanza (Get Moving), a centrist party with a social democratic ideology loosely allied with Alianza PAIS, has 36 mayors, 196 council seats, but only 1 prefecture. Avanza holds no seats in the National Assembly.[ ]

AP has undergone a transformation since the last sectional elections in 2014. Moreno's fight with Correa led to a brief struggle for control of AP in early 2018. Moreno won control of the party with the based on some controversial judicial decisions. Correa was expelled from the party he had been the founding leader of.

The Correistas left AP en masse and immediately began organizing a new party. (I use the term “Correista” advisedly to describe those on the Ecuadorian left and center-left grouped around and allied with Rafael Correa, because it gives the incorrect impression that there is some specific ideology that they adhere to, or that they are a monolithic block, or worse, that they are uncritical fanatics dedicated to Correa. Nevertheless, this is the term most commonly used to describe this political group.)

The Correistas view Moreno as a traitor to the struggles for social justice and equality, as well as their larger projects of building a Citizen's Revolution and regional political and trade alliances independent of U.S. hegemony, and their ultimate goal of developing an Ecuadorian version of what Correa calls Socialism for the 21st Century.

Most ominous for Moreno was a finding in a recent Perfiles de Opinion poll of residents of Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca, Ecuador's three largest cities, which found that an astonishing that 70 percent of the respondents declared "being sorry" for having given their vote to Moreno, “which reflects a distancing from their base of popular support,” said Recalde at the March 7 press conference.

There has been some shallow coverage of the feud between Moreno and Correa in the English language corporate news media , but two important aspects of it have gone virtually unreported. The split in AP cost it it's majority in National Assembly, as 30 of AP's 74 elected representatives left the party along with Correa and formed their own group in the National Assembly called Movimiento Revolucion Ciudana (Movement for Citizen's Revolution).
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Second, the Correistas were prevented from registering as a new party that could compete in Sunday's sectional elections. While the corporate media is filled with reports of repressive electoral irregularities in Venezuela, the Ecuadorian government's obstruction of the Correistas' ability to compete in elections has been all but ignored.

The Correistas' application to register as a political party to compete in elections was twice rejected by the National Electoral Council (CNE), a separate (and supposedly independent) branch of government that oversees and administers elections in Ecuador. Each time, the CNE rejected the name of the party, which it must certify in order to begin the registration process. The first application, to register under the name Movement for Citizen's Revolution was rejected by the CNE on the ground that “Citizen's Revolution” was a slogan of AP. The phrase Citizen's Revolution was used by Correa often when he was the leader of AP, but since the split, Moreno and other AP officials, no longer use the phrase.

The second application by the Correistas to was to register under the name, Movimiento Revolución Alfarista (Alfarista Revolutionary Movement), was again rejected by the CNE. Eloy Alfaro, who the party was to be named after, was President of Ecuador from 1895 to 1901. He was a reformer credited with helping to modernize Ecuador. Alfaro came from a province, Manabi, which continues to be one of the most progressive areas in Ecuador. The CNE ruled that Alfaro was not a leftist and that the leftist Correistas could thus not use his name for their party. [ ]

The CNE's rejecting of the Correistas applications to form a new party created a bizarre political phenomenon. The second largest political grouping elected to the National Assembly (Correistas retain 30 seats), was not approved to register as a party to compete in elections. This is highly irregular and a huge aberration in democratic process. It would undoubtedly attract loads of coverage and sharp criticism from the corporate media for being undemocratic and politically repressive, had it occurred in Venezuela.

“The party was kidnapped by Moreno in a not very clear judicial process,” said Fernando Casado, a Political Adviser to the small party, Fuerza Compromiso Social, which has entered an into a last minute agreement with the Correistas, allowing them to run some candidates on its line in Sunday's elections. “Moreno betrayed AP's political platform. He has systematically broken his commitments to the upholding the domestic and foreign policy platforms AP had agreed to,” Casado told this reporter.

Casado explained that in Ecuador, each party's political platform becomes a notarized legal document and politicians and representatives of a party, including its elected officials, can be recalled by the party if they do not uphold the party's written platform. Casado believes that under a correct application of Ecuadorian election law, the judiciary should have decided in favor of Correista control of AP, since Moreno has gone against many positions in AP's official platform, but the ruling went to Moreno.

Casado bristled as he recounted the tortured course the Correistas have had to take in order to field any candidates in Sunday's election. Following the CNE's decisions to twice reject proposed name of the party, preventing them from even beginning the process of registering their own new party – which process includes the time consuming task of collecting a large number of signatures – Casado said that the Correistas decided to change their strategy. There wasn't time to make another attempt to begin the registration process if they were going to run candidates in Sunday's elections.

The Correistas first reached an agreement with another party, named Movimiento Acuerdo Nacional (National Agreement Movement), which is known by the initials MANA, which the CNE had approved for the signature gathering process to regain its ballot status. “We needed to collect 400,000 signatures and we collected 600,000,” recalled Casado. However, the day before the signatures were to be presented to the CNE, the leadership of MANA made a surprise announcement in which they renounced the party's agreement with the Correistas, expelled Correa from the party, and announced that they would not be presenting signatures to reinstate the party's ballot status.

Thwarted again, the Correistas were able to scramble and reach an agreement with the yet another party, Fuerza Compromiso Social (Social Commitment Force), to run candidates on its ballot line.

Casado said that all the obstacles the Correistas have faced in fielding candidates in Sunday's elections, have meant that they have been able to field candidates in only 25 percent of urban, and 11 percent of rural districts. “Our goal is to get 4 percent of the national vote,” said Casado, which would give Fuerza Compromiso Social ballot status for the next election. Casado acknowledges that this will be very difficult, since the party is fielding candidates in less than a quarter of the districts, it will have to receive around 20 percent of the votes in the elections it has candidates in order to reach the 4 percent national total.

“We also hope to win a few major victories in some places to show that our movement is still alive,” said Casado. The Correistas are focusing on running candidates for prefect and mayor in a number of Ecuador's major cities and provinces, and areas in which they have had a strong base, he explained.

It is an uphill struggle for the Correistas which have been attacked by virtually all other of Ecuador's many political parties and factions. Their leaders are being investigated and prosecuted for corruption, with some already behind bars. Ecuador's mass media, which is dominated by privately owned corporation, keeps up a daily barrage of anti-Correa news reports. In addition to all this, the CNE decisions and surprise betrayal by MAPA have severely limited the Correistas ability to compete in the sectional elections.

Sunday's elections will also be important to parties and politicians on Ecuador's pro-capitalist political right, which are jockeying to the lead opposition to Moreno from that end of the political spectrum. None of the major parties on the right performed well in the 2013 sectional elections and thus all are in position to make significant gains. In 2017, the major parties of the right won only 4 of 24 prefectures, 43 of 221 mayor's offices, and 213 of 1,305 council seats. This includes such parties as Movimiento CREO (Creating Opportunities Movement) [ ], Partido Social Christiano (PSC - Social Christian Party) [ ], and Movimiento SUMA (United Society for More Action Movement) [ ], .

CREO is the party of Guillermo Lasso, a banker who narrowly lost to Moreno in the Presidential runoff of 2017. Lasso is again considered to be a top contender for President in 2021. [ ] The PSC's Jaime Nesbot, the Mayor of Guayaquil, is another potential Presidential candidate. SUMA is the party of Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas, another popular politician on the Ecuadorian right. [ ]

Another party with a fair amount at stake on Sunday is the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement. It is a political party which seeks to represent Ecuador's indigenous communities. Pachakutik has a radical leftist and environmentalist platform and has long been a left critic of AP, including during Correa's Presidency. [ ] The party has recently led militant anti-mining struggles to prevent environmental destruction and water pollution. Pachakutik will be trying to hold on to it's 4 precfectures, 23 mayor's offices, and 92 council seats. It will challenged in its stronghold of Manabi Province by Correista candidates.

Sunday's election will also feature a local referendum in Giron on whether residents approve of mining in that area. The referendum became controversial, when the Moreno government sought to stop it on technical grounds. However, an initial judicial victory by the government was reversed by a higher court and the referendum will go forward. The Ecuadorian constitution specifies that development decisions, such as areas open to mining and the sale of mining concessions to multi-national corporations, are to be made by the national government, so the results of the Giron referendum are advisory only.

Ecuador is a multi-party democracy with a lot of political parties. Many are regional and not influential at the national level. The Ecuadorian political spectrum is skewed to the left in comparision to the electoral spectrum in the United States. Liberalism, on the left of the electoral spectrum in the U.S., is a right of center ideology in Ecuadorian politics, because of its strong advocacy of capitalist economics. Parties in the center of the Ecuadorian political spectrum tend to identify themselves as social democratic, progressive, or populist.

The left of the electoral spectrum in Ecuador is occupied by parties which identify with some variant of socialist politics. It should be noted, however, that the larger parties that identify themselves as socialist have not sought to nationalize industries nor pushed policies to transition from a capitalist economy to a socialist dominated economic system. The Correistas did very little along those lines when they were in power. Only smaller socialist and communist Ecuadorian parties advocate moving now to further nationalize industry. (Ecuador founded a national oil company 42 years ago and it is currently called Petrorecuador. Ecuador's oil industry remains open to the private sector and also to multi-national corporations. )

Most experts expect that Alianza PAIS will suffer substantial losses in Sunday's elections. If that occurs, the question is: which parties, those of the right, center, or left, will benefit the most? Also, how will this election set the stage for the 2021 Presidential election? Voter turnout will be high, as voting is compulsory in Ecuador for literate people ages of 18 to 65, though the voting franchise extends to all those over the age of 16.
§Rafael Correa, former President of Ecuador
by Jonathan Nack
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