Ecuador: A New Political Map

Following ruling party’s defeat at the polls, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa looks to control land use and local governments.

Posted on 04/30/14
By Luis Ángel Saavedra | Via Latinamerica Press
President Rafael Correa. (Photo by OEA - OAS, Creative Commons License)
President Rafael Correa. (Photo by OEA – OAS, Creative Commons License)

For seven years, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa seemed unbeatable in elections. He won with margins that it seemed impossible to defeat him, especially given the results on Feb. 17, 2013. That election day, Correa was reelected in the first round of voting and garnered near 90 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, which allowed him to push through laws he wanted and block any bills from the opposition.


Just over a year later, on Feb. 23, Correa had his first electoral setback, showing his weaknesses and the internal frictions within his Alianza País movement. It was the first indication he could be defeated.


That day, elections were held for the country’s 24 provincial prefectures, as well as for the mayors of parishes and municipalities in Ecuador’s three-tier political administrative system. Although the ruling party Alianza País remains the leading political force and won the majority of mayoral and prefecture seats, the fact that it lost control of major cities and several provinces has created a feeling of triumph for those who oppose Correa’s government — especially the right, which took control of Quito and maintained power in Guayaquil.


Although several local factors triggered Alianza País defeat, the common denominator was excessive interference by the president on the campaign trail, which didn’t allow local candidates strengthen their image of authority.


“In Azuay we don’t like people to speak for us,” reelected Prefect Paúl Carrasco said during his campaign, representing a leftist coalition that included the indigenous movement. With this, Carrasco was also emphasizing that ruling party candidates didn’t have their own voice and were letting the administration speak for them — a move that proved counterproductive for the campaigns in this southern province that is committed to developing itself autonomously. The ruling party also lost the mayoral elections in Azuay’s capital of Cuenca.


In Quito, the vote against Correa was more obvious, even if the president wouldn’t recognize it, to the point that he asked the voters to spoil their votes. He cited the poor image of then-mayor Augusto Barrera, a ruling party member who ran for reelection. “Ultimately if they don’t get the vote and there’s an anti-Barrera vote, they should annul the vote. But don’t give it to the enemy,” Correa said days before the election. Ultimately, Mauricio Rodas of the Suma Movement won, representing a renewed Ecuadoran right.


A similar scene played out in other provincial capitals and cities of vital political and economic importance to the country, like Ibarra, Ambato, Riobamba, Manta, Lago Agrio, Puyo, and Zamora.


Diverting the discussion
To avoid the debate over whether Correa won or lost these elections, spokespersons for the Socialist Party — a government ally — announced a proposal to allow for presidential reelection. The move changed the political debate to whether Correa should be allowed to run for a fourth term — the official term limit is currently two consecutive four-year terms, although Correa managed to secure a third term following the approval of the new Constitution  in 2008. There was intense opposition to the fourth term proposal, including from Barrera.


The proposed candidacy of Correa in the 2017 elections, and the ruling party’s defeat in the country’s main cities, reveals a lack of other leadership in Alianza País and the need to uphold the image that the president is the only one capable of attracting the votes necessary to sustain the coalition’s political plan. There was also a failure to analyze the causes of the electoral defeat that lead to the crumbling of the administration’s plan to control regional governments, especially in areas with extractives projects, like the Amazonian provinces of Orellana and Sucumbíos, where there is oil, and Azuay, Loja, Zamora and Morona Santiago in the south, which are being considered for the large-scale mining industry.


“The reelection proposal is nothing more than a trial balloon to distract from examining what happened on Feb. 23,” political analyst Jorge León told Latinamerica Press. “Which is why, when the distraction didn’t work due to the large number of opposition voices, the analysis of the regional elections should have been revisited and a way should have been found to control the regional governments, despite having lost the elections.”


On the one hand, according to analysts, there were errors by Alianza País leadership, who didn’t form alliances with local movements that ended up winning, especially the Avanza Movement lead by current Minister of Industries Ramiro González. The party won 42 municipalities and two prefectures, becoming the second strongest political group in the country. Alianza País changed leadership, a move that singled out the exiting leaders for their role in the defeat and protected Correa’s image, putting him in reserve towards the 2017 elections.


On the other hand, with a ruling party majority in the legislature, the National Secretary for Planning and Development introduced a bill to grant the central government control over land use and development, reducing the role of regional governments. This could, to a certain extent, also reduce the political repercussions of the electoral defeat. Paco Moncayo, ex mayor of Quito, called the bill “unconstitutional and a product of having lost the country’s key mayoral seats.”


Threats and dialogue
The Land Ordering and Soil Use bill, which would give the president control over these issues that have historically been the jurisdiction of municipalities, has become a threat to local and regional governments that are in the opposition’s hands. The authorities have had to give into a rapprochement the government is attempting with local officials, beginning with a lunch at the Presidential Palace on Mar. 6 and dialogues led by the new National Secretary of Political Management, Viviana Bonilla, who was appointed after losing the election for mayor of Guayaquil to Social Christian Party candidate Jaime Nebot, who will serve his fourth term leading Ecuador’s leading port city.


Bonilla prioritized talks with officials from areas where there is mining or oil drilling, but without debating those projects. Instead, they discussed what local investments could be made with the revenues from the extractives industries. She focused on Guadalupe Llori, reelected Prefect of Orellana and part of the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement, and Guido Vargas, Prefect-elect of Sucumbíos representing the Patriotic Society Party.
Alliances with both prefectures are vital because they are the provinces with oil production and have the highest proven amount of oil reserves, including the ITT Block in Yasuní National Park.


Also in Bonilla’s sights are the southern provinces, especially Zamora, Morona Santiago, Loja and Azuay, which will be called the “mining district,” and which are crucial for a government that bases its policies on natural resource extraction.


The task at hand for Bonilla isn’t easy. The local triumphs, achieved despite of the advertising avalanche from the administration and the use of government resources, have strengthened the image of local elected authorities and given them enough political leeway to demand compensation for the exploitation of natural resources. What remains unknown is whether they will side with environmental groups that also supported them with the hope that they would oppose the expansion of large-scale mining in the south and especially oil drilling in Yasuní National Park, in the province of Orellana. 


Courtesy Latinamerica Press

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