A Shot Across the Political Bow in Ecuador
You can see the banners, signs and the words ringing out from every corner of Ecuador: “Ya Tenemos Presidente, Tenemos a Rafael”. The literal translation? “We already have a President, We have Rafael.” This is a reference to the extremely popular current Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, who not only holds an 82% public approval rating, which would make any global politician envious, but who also decimated a well funded, articulate and successful candidate in the most recent national Presidential elections. This simple statement may well reflect both the most prominent political strength and most prominent political weakness of President Rafael Correa during the Ecuador Elections 2014.
There remains no doubt that Ecuador enjoys its popular President Correa, but as the elections of February 23, 2014 clearly illustrate, the Ecuadorean populace is much less enamored with President Correa’s political party Alianza PAIS. This seminal election was presented as a clear referendum on the President’s party and the outcome showed devastating results for Alianza PAIS, proving, at least partially, that the public good will for President Correa does not carry over to many of his political allies. A minimum of three realities are clear from the recent elections:
1) The electorate supports Correa to a much greater degree than they support his political movement, Alianza PAIS. If this reality is not addressed, the Alianza PAIS movement may have a short political lifespan and the legacy of Correa will be one of “cult of personality” and not “political party builder”.
2) The Ecuadorean populace, one of the most fiercely independent in the world, from a historical perspective, remains just as fiercely politically independent today, vehemently rejecting the concept of a “one party vote”. This is clear as in many regions of Ecuador, loyal PAIS members were elected side-by-side with ardent PAIS opponents. “May the best man win”, seems to be the only cogent and recognizable message from the Ecuadorean citizenry.
3) There is a fierce and decidedly evident split between the major cities of Ecuador and the outlaying and more rural regions. The major cities of Ecuador, rather easily, split away from President Correa and voted for politicians that often could only be characterized as “Anti-Correa policies”. The more rural regions, almost without exception, strongly supported the Correa-backed PAIS party candidate. In areas where one citizen carried votes for both municipal and provincial elections, that same vote was often split across a pro-PAIS and anti-PAIS candidate. Perhaps one could stretch and cull a message of “balance and bipartisanship”, but the only clear message, which seems to resonate, is that Correa’s sweeping infrastructure reforms and upgrades, which have reached out to unite Ecuador, have not had their merit recognized in the most thriving and major metropolitan cities of Ecuador.
Until this election, few questions seemed pertinent. The most resounding one had been, “Who will inherit the presidential mantle from President Correa?” After these election results, the questions are numerous, varied and intriguing, not least of which is, “If the status quo remains for the PAIS party, are they in danger of losing the next presidential elections?” However, in many respects, this question is not the most immediate or most pertinent.
Questions, which seem to beg rising to the forefront, include, “Is the Correa ascendancy only a cult of personality, or did the PAIS Party, intoxicated with its past easy success, become docile, dormant and overconfident during this election cycle? Is the message of “may the best man win” truly the message of the Ecuadorean populace, or were they saying something completely different by often splitting their votes between PAIS Party members and the opposition? With Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca and Manta, Ecuador’s largest cities, all decidedly adopting anti-PAIS postures, in the case of Quito and Cuenca even unseating PAIS incumbents, what do Ecuador’s major metropolitan centers want from their federal government and future local development?
The questions go on and on. For someone as opinionated as me and so engrossed with global politics, it would be easy to opine on the answers to my own rhetorical questions. However, ultimately, it would be a disservice to the readership, because I don’t honestly believe that any of us pundits truly have a clear insight. I think Ecuador remains a vibrantly democratic nation, in the throes of unprecedented economic expansion, which is causing an almost daily reevaluation by its domestic populace. A reevaluation as to wants, needs, desires, aspirations and who are the best leaders to shine a light on the continued path to progress, which without argument, was a path cut and led by President Rafael Correa.
Some will see my failure to provide more strong commentary, as indicative of my lack of will to criticize the PAIS Party, given my strong approval of President Correa. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my next statement should assuage such thoughts.
The one clear message I cannot ignore from these elections is that the major city-centers of Ecuador are demanding that President Correa give as much attention to their future evolution, as he has done in bringing modernity to much of a rural nation once ignored. The city-centers seem to be demanding a greater impetus for economic vibrancy and access to global expansion, which would raise their standards of success and prosperity to the next level. Whether such demands are being made fully cognizant or not, of the great success which Correa’s popular rural mandate has brought, in turn, to the major cities, is less clear. What is crystal clear is that if Correa ignores the demands of its city-centers over the next three years, not even his exceptionally strong mandate may keep the PAIS Party from sinking under the weight of the demand for change, coming from Ecuador’s economic centers of commerce. We are definitely living during interesting times in Ecuador.