by Luis Fleischman
On November 26, a run-off election will take place in Ecuador that will determine who the next President of Ecuador is going to be. The two contenders are Alvaro Noboa and Rafael Correa. Mr. Noboa, a businessman and entrepreneur won almost 27% of the votes whereas Rafael Correa, a former Minister of Economy and PhD from the University of Illinois won almost 23% of the electorate.
Mr. Noboa supports free trade and strong relations with the United States. Mr. Correa is more of a populist, is very critical of the Ecuadorian political system, its parties and politicians, and he supports closer relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Mr. Correa spent a great part of his campaign targeting “enemies” which of course included the rule of the parties (partidocracy), the Ecuadorian oligarchy and the United States. Most importantly, he talked about following the model of Venezuela and Bolivia as far as creating a constituent assembly aimed at changing the nature of Ecuador’s political institutions. As we know in Venezuela, the creation of a constituent assembly led to an increasing authoritarian system where more and more power was delegated from the legislative to the executive power. The party system was virtually decimated in favor of a direct relationship between the leader and the masses. The President in Venezuela now represents the “general will” of the people and, therefore, Chavez’s will is equal to the people’s will even if such will is imaginary.
To further analyze this point, it is important to understand that along with Presidential elections Ecuador was also holding Congressional elections. Mr. Correa’s party (ALIANZA PAIS) contrary to Noboa’s party (PRAN) and the rest of the parties did not present candidates for Congress. Mr. Correa’s party is a political movement detached from a structure and sees political elections only as means to gain votes, to establish him in power and later rule without the parliamentary-party system. It is against this background that Correa’s support for a constituent assembly will serve his purpose. The assembly will determine the elimination of party plurality in favor of the almighty political leader. As soon as he comes to power Mr. Correa will proceed to dismantle political pluralism in Ecuador and will move in the direction set by Hugo Chavez.
Perhaps, we can explore some of these points by looking at Mr. Correa’s style. Even though he has been educated in Belgium and the United States, this should not serve as a criterion to judge him. He refuses to call the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) a terrorist group, and he opposes the “Plan Colombia” aimed at eradicating drug trafficking and guerilla activity. Thus, he opposes allowing the United States to use the military base at Manta, an agreement between the US and Ecuador that was negotiated in order to control drug trafficking in the region.
At the end of the first round of elections on October 15, Correa declared there was fraud. He seemed to be following the example of Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico and was an attempt to de-legitimize the system and create an alternative power. He is no longer pursuing this route now because he still sees some hope in the second round. After Hugo Chavez called President George W. Bush, the “devil” at the United Nations General Assembly this September, Mr. Correa stated that Chavez’s words were an insult to the “devil”.
When he was Minister of Finance during a brief period early in the administration of the current president, Alfredo Palacios, he supported the idea of increasing monetary spending on social projects by not paying the foreign debt. Correa already said he will pursue this policy again.
What are Correa’s chances in the second round of elections?
Correa, like former President Lucio Gutierrez in the year 2002, has good chances to win the newly mobilized poor. Correa has strong relations with the indigenous movements and parties and even though they received only 2.5% of the vote they have a lot of local support. The more moderate social-democratic party (ID) that won almost 15% of the votes in the first round already offered support for Correa. However, Correa’s Chavismo may turn away others.
For Noboa, it will be a little more difficult for him to connect with the poor given his position as being, perhaps, the wealthiest man in Ecuador. This factor is important given the new mobilization of groups such as the indigenous ones that were previously politically passive or excluded. Yet, he still has a chance to make this connection. Noboa’s tremendous wealth enabled him to give out medicines, computers and other services to the poorest sectors. He promised to build affordable housing and he also spoke about the importance of keeping foreign investments, particularly the Spanish ones, because he rightly believes that they can be a source of employment.
Noboa so far has received ample support from the Social Christian party (PSC) that won almost 10% of the vote in the first round. Interestingly enough Gilmar Gutierrez and his party Sociedad Patriotica won 17% of the vote. Gutierrez received support from the humblest sectors as well. Curiously enough Mr. Gutierrez is the brother of the former president Lucio Gutierrez, who was deposed by Congress in April 2005 after mass demonstrations. Rafael Correa is identified as one of those who conspired against President Gutierrez. Given that there is a good chance that Gilmar Gutierrez may endorse Noboa. This could help Noboa win the election.
Noboa will have to present assurances of inclusion and stress the values of democracy. Liberty and economic freedom are great ideas but in Latin America these concepts have lost weight. Social justice and equality represent higher value in current Latin America. The question is if Noboa could use the idea of democracy and freedom as a way to promote dialogue, inclusion, and legality. Democracy and dialogue should provide ways to include poor groups looking for a voice in the national arena. Democracy and legality could appeal to the Social Democrat voters despite their leader’s endorsement of Correa. The Correa-Chavez model of social justice above democracy, liberty and law will lead to destruction of pluralism because it is the leader that claims to represent people’s needs without consulting them. Warning against a Chavista regime type of regime and warning of the dangers of a constituent assembly is important but Noboa may have to move beyond this.
Noboa may think about inclusive economic policies but he should consider saying something critical of the current system and about the current rampant corruption. The fact is that the political parties and politicians have been involved in serious acts of corruption. Also the Supreme Court has been manipulated and politicized by previous governments. If Noboa does not address these needs for change that Ecuador requires, it will be Correa who will hijack this momentum and he will do so by following the Chavez model which is a proscription for populist authoritarianism.
In terms of international and regional politics, a victory for Correa will most likely bring another ally to Hugo Chavez, which implies more radicalization of the region, more allies for Iran, more apologists for terrorism and consequently a more dangerous Western Hemisphere.