COHA: Ecuadorian Elections – an Easy Choice
Council On Hemispheric Affairs
MONITORING POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND DIPLOMATIC
ISSUES AFFECTING THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
Press Releases, Front Page, Ecuador
Sunday’s Ecuadorian Elections – an Easy Choice
• A quality candidate versus a billionaire intent to purchase himself the country’s presidency
On November 26, Ecuadorians will be heading to the polls for the second time in six weeks to decide who will be the country’s next president, amidst a highly polarized contest. The first-round election, which was held on October 15, rewarded the billionaire banana tycoon, Álvaro Noboa, with 26.83 percent of the vote. Noboa beat his nearest contender, Rafael Correa Delgado, who was only able to obtain 22.84 percent of the tally. The first-round success of Noboa, the conservative Partido Renovador Institucional Accion Nacional’s (PRIAN’s) leader, was a major blow against political pundits, who prematurely predicted that the leader of the liberal Alianza Pais (MPAIS), Rafael Correa, would triumph.
Noboa, considered the richest man in Ecuador, had run and lost before, but this time had more craftily invested his wealth in his third run for presidency. As he toured the country, Noboa showered the populace with gifts by granting micro-credits and financial donations to the poverty-stricken Ecuadorians, seeking to start small businesses. It was reported that he personally had handed $500 to a resident in the area of Guasmo Sur. This seeming populist approach, replete with marching bands, asados, hand-outs, and first-class entertainment generated what seemed to be an unstoppable momentum. Noboa’s campaigning convinced a large if volatile block of supporters – often in dire poverty – to vote for him. But Noboa’s populism was far from authentic due to his calculated usage of the trappings of wealth as a political tool. He used his extraordinary affluence not to advocate the ventilation of ideas, as much as to stage spectacular events, which more promoted his wealth than his vision. Instead of advancing the politics of compromise and dialogue, he showcased the politics of glitter. Indeed, Noboa’s campaign account was frozen because he exceeded the $687,068 spending limit set by Ecuador’s supreme electoral body, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), by more than $250,000 in campaign expenses.
In addition to overspending, Noboa’s first-round success was also very much the result of non-stop dirty campaigning against Correa. Nor was Noboa above using cheap and tawdry Cold War rhetoric, calling his opponent a “communist devil” whose intentions are to convert Ecuador into an Andean version of Cuba. Noboa even accused, although cited no evidence, the PhD holding intellectual Correa - who previously served the country as Finance Minister – of receiving money from Colombia’s leftist guerillas, the FARC. In response to Correa’s promise to default on all of Ecuador’s foreign loans and his opposition to free trade talks with the U.S., Noboa declared: “My rival has taken off his mask of communist, and received backing from [Venezuela’s President] Chávez. Both Chávez and Correa are holding hands.”
Unlike Noboa’s defamatory and squalid tactics, Correa has championed a well-reasoned campaign presenting concrete solutions to Ecuador’s multiple socio-economic problems. Despite Correa’s reformist appeal being tarnished by Noboa’s fulminations, he has managed to present himself as a well-prepared and pragmatic candidate. During his brief period as Ecuador’s Finance Minister, he displayed economic savvy in tackling the harsh conditions and policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and negotiated loans for the construction of hydroelectric power plants that would reduce Ecuador’s dependency on costly thermo-electric installations.
Coming from a middle-class background, Correa has consistently promoted an economic policy that would benefit the under-privileged as well as the elites. Showing great affinity towards the poor, he claimed that the elimination of gasoline subsidies would be “social suicide.” When interviewed by Diario La Hora about the current natural gas and gasoline subsidies being offered to Ecuadorians, he explained that “subsidies are neither bad nor good,” and that it all depends on the manner in which they are applied. In reference to subsidizing natural gas, Correa, in his typical conciliatory fashion, promised to consult the population prior to any final decision. To the contrary, Noboa promised to subsidize natural gas only to those Ecuadorians in “total misery…until I [Noboa] can give them jobs.”
Interestingly enough, three weeks ago Noboa led the polls by a 20-percent margin over Correa. But recent sampling shows that Correa, extraordinarily enough, is now trailing Noboa by only three points which is within the margin of error. However, as it is often the case, Latin American polls are not particularly trustworthy because they are basically politicized and commercialized. For instance, the polling service Market erroneously predicted that Correa would win the first round and has once again indicated that he will prevail with 41 percent of the vote, leaving Noboa with a 37 percent share. Other polling companies, such as Informe Confidencial, suggest that another Noboa victory is imminent.
These incongruent findings indicate that the upcoming election can go either way. It remains certain that the winner will face an enormous challenge fulfilling his campaign promises, considering that several of Ecuador’s recent presidents have been forcedly ousted or chose to take flight. Ecuador’s modern history has included an astonishing seven presidents and two military-led juntas since 1996. The country’s next president will have to meet the needs of, as well as remedy the frustrations of, a fractured society. The indigenous population has already demonstrated its ability to bring down inefficient administrations that have not delivered on their pledges. Thus, it would be a dangerous gamble for Ecuadorians to choose Noboa, an arcane figure who seems more intent on buying an election so he can add one more distinction to his trophy case than serving the nation authentically and with legitimacy.
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