Despite allegations of vote-rigging to benefit the right, Ecuador’s regional elections have shown the enduring strength of the Citizens’ Revolution initiated by former president Rafael Correa.
‘They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds’. The old Mexican proverb never rang truer than it did in Ecuador during the early hours of 25 March.
The previous day’s local and regional elections were meant to put a definitive end to the political phenomenon of the Citizens’ Revolution (la Revolución Ciudadana) and bury, once and for all, the legacy of leftwing President Rafael Correa, whose ten years in power from 2007 to 2017 have been named ‘the victorious decade’ for the achievements in reducing poverty and inequality while bringing back political and economic stability.
The new political map
The newly formed electoral list, Fuerza Compromiso Social (FCS), comprising Correa’s allies and the former militants of the Alianza País (Country Alliance) party, won the prefectures of two of Ecuador’s three most populous regions – Pichincha (which includes the capital Quito) and Manabí, as well as gaining a plurality of seats on the Quito Metropolitan City Council.
The traditional rightwing and conservative parties also achieved gains throughout the country, with the Social Christian Party (PSC) of Jaime Nebot gaining an overall of eight prefectures, while the SUMA-CREO parties supported by notorious corporate banker Guillermo Lasso and the outgoing mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas, achieved victories in three prefectures. Between them, they also won a total of 89 mayoralties in different parts of the country, although the majority was clustered around their traditional stronghold of the Guayas province.
A number of new political parties unaffiliated to either Correa or the traditional Right have also made their entrance onto the political scene. Movimiento Unión Ecuatoriana, Movimiento Democrácia Si (allied with Moreno) and Movimiento Nacional Juntos Podemos won eight prefectures and 57 mayoralties between them.
Another significant development during these elections has been the re-emergence of a number of political forces previously both opposed to and supportive of Rafael Correa’s government. Democratic Centre, Popular Unity and Socialist Party of Ecuador between them won six prefectures, as well as 42 mayoralties across the country. Pachakutik, the indigenous political party affiliated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador who also opposed Rafael Correa’s presidency during most of his tenure and increasingly aligned with the rightwing opposition in recent years, won four prefectures and 18 mayoralties.
Thus, in the vacuum created by the collapse of Alianza Pais, the new political map shows no clear political hegemony on the part of either the country’s traditional rightwing parties, the newly emerged political alliances or the pro-Correa FCS electoral front. However, the success achieved by FCS stands in stark contrast with the long-established political forces in the country.
Formed and officially registered to participate in December 2018, lacking any significant financial resources, having no electoral machinery, effectively blocked and sidelined by the country’s private and public media, and relying upon the newly-formed networks of militants and grassroots activists across the country, as well as the organising in social media and with support from Rafael Correa, FCS managed to establish itself as the most effective political opposition to Moreno’s neoliberal government. Even Jaime Nebot, the long-time opponent of Correa and the Citizens’ Revolution, acknowledged that the former president and his movement continue playing an important part in the country’s political scene.
Since before the elections on 24 March and throughout the following days, the process has been marred by a series of controversies and irregularities with regards to vote counts and allegations of fraud.
The first was a series of statements by the National Electoral Council (CNE) indicating that the elections to the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) will undergo a major change in the counting of ballots, with any invalid votes being counted as three blank votes and thus increasing the likelihood of the annulment of results.
The CPCCS is an elected body overseeing the appointment of legal officials such as the Attorney General and the Comptroller General, as well as members of the National Electoral Council members, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the judicial oversight board. It was considered an important milestone of Ecuador’s Citizens Revolution and the country’s constitution of 2008. The 24 March elections would have given the Ecuadorian voters a chance to elect a new council, with the independent candidates endorsed by Correa and his allies likely to wrest control of the judiciary from the hands of Moreno’s allies.
The move by the CNE has been condemned as a cynical and illegal attempt to prevent any changes to the current state of the CPCCS. Under pressure from Correa’s supporters, as well as the Organisation of American States (OAS), the CNE was forced to eventually reverse its decision, although the final assessment of results would still lie in the hands of the Electoral Dispute Court (Tribunal Contensio Electoral).
The attempts to invalidate Correa’s allies and the vote overall did not stop there. A blackout affecting 14 sectors of the country occurred in the early hours of 25 March, while at least 498 incidents relating to the electoral process were reported at polling stations. Most notably, the CNE website was inaccessible during the early hours of 25 March: when it reappeared, there were a number of drastic changes in the final vote count of the CPCCS candidates. Whilst previously the pro-Correa candidates Walter Gomez and Garciela Mora were leading the vote count with 15-16 per cent, following the website crash the results dropped to 5-6 per cent. A number of formal complaints have already been made by the candidates to the CNE.
Furthermore, the final results for the mayoral elections in Quito were also questioned by Luisa Maldonado, the FCS candidate who gained 18.42 per cent of the vote, behind the proclaimed winner and independent candidate Jorge Yunda with 21.33 per cent. Maldonado’s argument was based on the FCS’ clear victories in the elections for the Pichincha province and the Quito city council, as well as the large number of inconsistencies among at least 10 per cent of ballots that have not been investigated by the CNE. As such, she has refused to recognise the official results until now.
In another unusual twist that illustrates the Moreno regime’s newfound alliance with the United States and its foreign policy, the US ambassador, Todd Chapman, was spotted visiting the headquarters of the CNE and allegedly participating as an official electoral observer in the elections. Chapman’s involvement was widely condemned on social media as illegal under current electoral rules, which forbid foreign powers from playing any active role in observing or interfering with the electoral process.
Together with the official investigation into Moreno’s secret offshore bank accounts in Panama and the application of IMF reforms following a $4.2 billion loan package, the past week’s events underline the instability and chaos brought about by the country’s sharp turn to neoliberalism and its alignment to the US.
The ‘decade of triumph’ under Rafael Correa’s government now seems like a cherished (albeit a distant) memory to his supporters and detractors alike.