Demonstrations in Ecuador on March 19 and May 1 revealed heightened social turmoil and, at the same time, a vacuum in the political opposition.
There is, of course, a movement of groups on social networks who claim to be comfortable without political parties or leaders. There are citizens who, in the capital city of Quito, chanted “Get out, Correa, get out!” Unions and social and indigenous movements have withdrawn their support for Rafael Correa’s government and called for a national strike. Opinion polls reveal the political erosion of the regime: the number of people who do not believe the President (49%) now exceeds those who believe him (45%). More and more people are daring to overcome their fear and express discontent on the streets. This critical mass is also growing on social networks.
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Rafael Correa’s Government, however, still maintains significant advantages over any political opposition. Seven facts help to explain why, after eight years of passage through the desert, opposition politicians are failing to position their alternatives in the public opinion.
- The vast concentration of powers granted to the regime by the 2008 Constitution. Correa controls Parliament, the courts, the National Electoral Council and Ecuador’s largest media holding company, consisting of 25 government media. The opposition, from its position on the ideological periphery, is not facing an opponent; it is confronted by all the state apparatus, which forces it to play on an inclined playing field, with biased judges and against unlimited financial resources.
- A change in the political culture of Ecuador. Correa came to power after almost a decade of political instability, during which three presidents were overthrown by coups. Correa’s long term in office (by the 2017 elections it will be 10 years) can partly be explained by the electorate’s desire to bet on stability. It is a factor that favors the country and, of course, President Correa: until a few years ago, one only had to wait for the ruling power to burn out before replacing it. Now it’s necessary to establish a political alternative and win at the polls.
- A candidate who is always campaigning. The President has never hidden his game. When he came to power, Correa openly confessed that he would always be campaigning. This helped him to build a proselytizing apparatus that keeps him in constant touch with voters: a leading presence in media; radio and TV channels broadcasting his activities; a three-hour public address every Saturday for “maintaining accountability”; and travel all over the country. If we consider the combined advantages of this state apparatus, the conclusion is obvious: no opponent can even dream of competing on fair terms with Rafael Correa. And the National Electoral Council, controlled by his Government, finds nothing to say about his unbridled proselytism.
- An opposition in restructure. The arrival of Correa-ism coincided with the moment that Ecuadoran voters turned their backs on the political establishment in general. On the streets, society demanded “out with all of them!” During the eight years of what the Government calls the “Citizen Revolution,” the opposition has not achieved an organic and programmatic restructuring of its political forces.
- The political right lacks a common road map. After eight years of a self-proclaimed leftist government, we might presume that a political change, if any, might favor the right. The right is the fringe with the most political influence in public opinion, although its ranks are divided. Guillermo Lasso, former presidential candidate and leader of the Creo party, is leading the renewal of the right. He is the alternative candidate who, at least for now, has the greatest presence in the country and the best position in the opinion polls. Lasso does not hide his desire to replace Correa in 2017.
The Mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot, is the local official from the right who has most acrimoniously confronted Correa-ism. After two previous unsuccessful presidential campaigns, Nebot states that he will not attempt a third. His alliance with Mauricio Rodas, the center-right Mayor of Quito, and Paul Carrasco, the militant leftist Prefect of Azuay, leads many analysts to believe that this initiative could result in the presidential candidacy of one of the three. None of this is certain. The fact is that Lasso, Rhodes and Nebot are figures of a right fringe which lacks a strategy to reach Presidential office.
- No alternatives in the center and even worse in the anti-Correa left. A renovation similar to Guillermo Lasso’s efforts on the right does not exist in the political center or the sector which, in other countries, occupies the contemporary left. This ground is claimed by the Avanza party, created from the government by its leader Ramiro González. Former President of the Board of Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS) and former Minister of Industry, González has recently split from the government. It is no secret that he aspires to Presidential office. His privileged relationship with the President, and the governmental support he received to create his party, cast doubt on his political independence and his sincere desire to encourage a social democratic trend. Looking at the figures, however, he is the leader of the second most popular party after Correa’s, with the largest number of elected local officials.
The anti-Correa left has the relative ability to mobilize, especially in indigenous rural communities, but it hasn’t come close to presenting a winning political alternative to voters. Groups like Ruptura de los 25, who seemed destined to revive the left, are today scrambling to survive. The conceptual and political influence of such groups on public opinion has been totally diminished.
- No comprehensive strategy to dismantle Correa-ism. No sector of Ecuador’s opposition has answered the two questions essential to Rafael Correa’s downfall: how to win and, if successful, how to prevent a future government from becoming his hostage? It is clear that Correa wants to change the Constitution with a simple amendment in Parliament, where he has majority, to remain in power. It is also clear that Correa’s great number of advantages, reviewed here, are driving voting intentions in the polls. His curve is, however, in decline.
In order to win, the opposition, from its position on the ideological fringe, needs to forge multiparty alliances. This scenario has already created divisions and fractures in some political camps. It ratifies the natural tendency to segmentation within Ecuadoran politics and the lack of pragmatism, which is fed in two ways: ideological itches and a dedication to the proliferation of warlords of all kinds.
Correa has another advantage: in the event of losing the election, he will still have powerful allies in all branches of government. Dismantling this network requires changing the Constitution. And for that, an agreement to convene the Constituent Assembly must be reached.
Forging such an agenda involves broad and deep discussions between opposing forces who want, firstly, to win and, secondly, to dismantle Correa-ism; a sort of transitional government of national unity. However, few forces from Ecuador’s opposition seem to be moving in that direction.
There is unrest in the streets over President Correa. But, at least for now, the Ecuadoran public does not see the opposition as a viable alternative power. At this point, the political vacuum is real.