On October 15 Ecuador went to the polls. Having seen eight presidents in 10 years, three of whom were overthrown by a population frustrated by the corruption, ineptitude and nepotism that characterise Ecuador's elite, the chances of any government lasting out its mandate seem pretty slim. However, the challenge could be in getting one of the pool of 13 presidential candidates even legitimately elected.
First counts showed the radical left-wing economist, Rafael Correa,
and two-time runner-up, billionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa,
neck-and-neck with around 25% each — until the voting machines, supplied
by Brazilian company E-Vote, broke down.
When E-Vote declared that it was unable to count the last thirty
percent of votes, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rescinded its
contract, and Correa, who had been polling well over 30% immediately
before the election, claimed that a fraud had been perpetrated. Many of
the other parties have echoed his claims.
A subsequent recount by the TSE confirmed a margin of 26% to 23% in
favour of Noboa. However, Correa's party, Alianza Pais ("Country
Alliance") has produced what it claims is evidence of systematic fraud,
including photographs of members of Noboa's PRIAN (Renovador
Institucional) party at polling booths marking and removing hundreds of
Prensa Latina reported that up to 10% of votes are missing in Guayas
Province, and that altered ballots have been discovered. The TSE and
other electoral tribunals are presided over by members of PRIAN and the
right-wing Social Christian Party.
The current election, which will now go into a second round run-off
on November 26, has polarised Ecuador's 13 million inhabitants, over
half of whom still live in poverty, despite Ecuador's formidable oil
Correa, a friend of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez and a
critic of Washington (calling US President George Bush a "dimwit"), is
running on a platform that would give the president the power to
dissolve Congress (an institution that recent polls indicate over 90% of
Ecuadorians have no trust in, regarding it to be a tool of the
traditional parties rather than an effective parliament), and convoke a
constituent assembly to "re-found" the country.
A former finance minister, Correa also wants to rewrite oil contracts
with foreign companies in order to prioritise social and infrastructure
spending over paying off the country's US$10 billion foreign debt. When
he attempted this last year, strong opposition from the right-wing
congress and lack of support from the president led to his resignation
as a minister.
His main campaign slogan — "dale correa" ("give them a
belting") taps into the widespread discontent with the traditional
parties. He is opposed to a free-trade agreement with the US, which
would endanger Ecuador's struggling agricultural sector, and has
proposed program of national development for the country and a regional
currency to strengthen the Latin American market in relation to the US.
Correa has already initiated a campaign for a referendum to convoke a
constituent assembly. He has made a call for unity among progressive
forces, to organise for a resounding victory in the second round.
Noboa could not be more different. A supporter of "free trade", he
has been traversing the country with a bible under his arm,
evangelising, handing out money, wheelchairs, computers and medicine,
and promising to create employment. He claims that God has sent him to
Human Rights Watch has criticised Noboa's extensive banana
plantations for the use of child-labour and violent union-busting
Noboa has attacked Correa's friendship with Chavez and support for
building a "socialism for the 21st century", accusing him of being a
"communist devil". He has also promised to cut off diplomatic ties with
Venezuela and Cuba if elected.
First published in Green Left Weekly, October 20, 2006