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  February 20, 2017

Ecuador Elections Appear Headed Towards Run-off

Despite Rafael Correa's success in improving infrastructure and social spending, the recent recession and attacks by private mass media have dampened enthusiasm for his former vice president Lenin Moreno
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Gregory Wilpert a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he taught at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-language website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). He moved back to the U.S. in 2008 because his wife was named Consul General of Venezuela in New York and he taught political science at Brooklyn College. Since 2014 he has been living in Quito, Ecuador where he headed up the launch of teleSUR English and his wife took the position of Venezuelan Ambassador to Ecuador. Since early 2016 he has been working as a producer for The Real News.


KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I'm Kim Brown.

Ecuadorians took to the voting polls on Sunday, February 19th to elect a new President, a new Legislature, and to vote on a Referendum. Now, final results are not in yet. But so far, it looks like the governing party candidate Lenin Moreno and the main Conservative opposition Guillermo Lasso will head to a run-off on April the 2nd. Moreno is President Rafael Correa's designated successor. He came in with 39% of the vote, and Lasso, who was a banker who campaigned on a return to Neoliberalism, came in with 28%. Now, this could still change slightly because these numbers are based off of 90% of the ballots that have been counted so far.

And joining us to talk about Ecuador's election results is Greg Wilpert. Greg is a political sociologist and a Real News producer who is based in Ecuador's capital of Quito. Greg, we appreciate you being here.

GREG WILPERT: My pleasure.

KIM BROWN: So, first let's go over the results because I already mentioned that the presidential results were as they were but what about the vote for the National Assembly. And also, will there be a run-off election on April the 2nd?

GREG WILPERT: Yeah, let's start with the second part first, about the run-off because it's not clear yet. Because in Ecuador in order to have a run-off vote, or sorry... In order to avoid a run-off vote, the winning candidate needs to have at least 40%. Unlike in many other countries where you have to have at least 50%. In Ecuador it's at least 40%, and you have to have at least 10 points of difference with the next candidate.

So, in this case, Moreno, the governing party's candidate, he has a ten-point difference with Lasso but he still has not reached that magical 40%. So, we still don't know for certain whether he will have to go to a run-off. There are still 10% of the votes to be counted, so it's possible it could still make that 1% but it's relatively unlikely. So, in other words, there will probably be a run-off.

As for the other results, they're very similar, actually, to the presidential election. That is, the National Assembly. The governing party, which is called Alianza Pais, got, more or less also again, 40% of the vote. That's actually significantly less than they had last time around, in 2013. That is about 10 points less, which could mean that they'll lose their absolute, or super-majority. They currently have a super-majority in the National Assembly. They'll definitely lose that. They could even lose the absolute majority.

So, it will make governing difficult for whomever. Especially if the governing party wins the presidential race it could make governing difficult. And, finally, there's a referendum on tax havens. And that passed narrowly. We can talk about that later but it passed with 55% of the vote.

KIM BROWN: So, Greg, in your opinion why do you think people voted the way that they did? And if you could, also tell us about the campaign and why so many Ecuadorians seem to be looking for a change of government?

GREG WILPERT: Yeah, in a way, it's a bit surprising, I would say, that so many... that Moreno didn't get a higher percentage of the vote because, you know, Rafael Correa has been part of this left tide Latin America. And he's been one of the most successful presidents of that leftist tide in Latin America. That is, you know, he succeeded in reducing poverty by 1/3 from 36% to 23%. He also doubled gross domestic product in the time, in the 10 years that he was President. Unemployment was halved, from 8 to 4%. Social security enrollment was almost doubled during that time. And despite all of these enormous increases in public spending, public debt, that is public sector debt of the government, remains actually one of the lower ones in the world, at around 26%. Just as a comparison to the United States has almost 100% of its GDP is debt.

So, it's, you know, economically speaking been relatively successful. Lots of people have been enrolled in schools. The university sector has increased significantly. Public spending, as I said, in social programs of all kinds were increased dramatically. You can really sense that. I've been here for three years now and you can really see all the changes in infrastructure, the construction, the improvements in public buildings, and all kinds of things. So, as I said, it seems kind of surprising.

But the last two years have been difficult because of the recession and part of that has been actually through no fault of the government. That is, Ecuador was hit by a massive earthquake last year, in April, that cost the country's economy billions of dollars. There was a decline in the price of oil over the past two years. That is, in mid-2014 it really tanked by more than half. And Ecuador is an oil-producing country, so it really depends on that.

And then finally, the currency is the dollar here in Ecuador and the US dollar has been strengthening. So that makes exports more expensive and less competitive. So, all of these things have contributed to a sense of, kind of, economic problems. Although, as I said, they're not really, none of them are really Correa's fault. And considering the difficulties, he managed them quite well.

And so, you'd think a successor candidate would do quite well but I think it's because of the economic situation. And one other factor that I should mention quickly is also the mass media. The private mass media in Ecuador is completely anti-government and the government of Correa has not done very much to diversify the media landscape. And so, they've had this constant barrage from the media that has criticized them from a right-wing perspective and that certainly has left an impact as well.

KIM BROWN: So, Greg, assuming that there will be a run-off in about six weeks, tell us about the two candidates who would be facing each other. Who are they and what do they stand for most importantly?

GREG WILPERT: Yeah, so the governing candidate, his name is Lenin Moreno, as we mentioned earlier. And he comes from kind of a leftist family. I would say politically, he's more kind of social democratic, welfare state oriented. I mean, he's not a radical by any sense of the term. He's just like Correa, he's promised to basically continue Correa's policies. And, I mean, he's made some concessions to the business class here in Ecuador, you know, saying that we have to lower interest rates, increase the activity of the private sector, those kinds of things. But the main point is really that he's insisted on continuing public spending on all of the social programs and especially the education sector, which has been so strong during Correa's presidency.

One of the things to highlight about Lenin Moreno is that he's wheelchair-bound. He suffered a mugging in 1998 and ever since then he's been confined to a wheelchair. And so, he's spent also a lot of time, I mean, before he was also Correa's vice president - actually for Correa's first term in office - and after that, I can't remember exactly when now, I think after 2012 - he became a UN advisor for disability issues. And, actually, he also pushed disability issues here in Ecuador very strongly. And Ecuador has become one of the most progressive places in terms of guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities. So, that's one of the things that he really stands out for. And so, he's enormously popular because of that.

Now, having said that, of course in light of the economic issues, that's one of the reasons, like I said before, why he probably didn't win outright. The other candidate is Guillermo Lasso, who's a banker. He's a conservative. He's run for several times for president before. Well, one other time for president actually, and lost against Correa. And he's also promised basically a return to neoliberalism. And he was responsible actually, which is kind of the surprising thing I think people forget about this, he was partly responsible for the economic crisis that Ecuador slid into in 1999 and in 2000, when a severe banking crisis hit Ecuador. He was even finance minister for a while and 3 million Ecuadorians had to leave the country for economic reasons. So, it's a real stark contrast actually between these two candidates.

KIM BROWN: Greg, one of the political actors that has gotten attention in the past in Ecuador was the indigenous movement. So, where did they stand in this election and what was their role?

GREG WILPERT: Yeah, I mean, actually, they were very active in previous presidential elections, but this time around they've been relatively quiet. That is, back in 2003, 2004, 2005, when Ecuador was going through a massive political upheaval, it was the indigenous movement that was really spearheading the overthrow of the government. Not the overthrow, but the resignation, forcing the presidents to resign. And Ecuador cycled through several presidents very quickly. And it was thanks to the indigenous movement at that time, which then became allied, actually, with Correa. And that's what enabled Correa to win in 2006.

But since then there's been a certain amount of alienation between the Correa government and the indigenous movement. Not only that, the indigenous movement has become very fragmented. Now, they don't represent that big a segment of the population. That is - it's estimated that 7 to 8% of the population is indigenous - but they do have a lot of political weight. And you know, especially for the left in Ecuador, they're highly respected. However, during the Correa government, they've become very fragmented into a sector that's criticizing the government from the left; another sector that supports the government and a third sector that's been criticizing the government from the right and has been allying itself with the right and supporting the right. So, that's really weakened its role and that's why they did not play much of a role at all in this election.

KIM BROWN: Finally, one of the issues that was on the ballot was a referendum: a proposal to prohibit politicians from holding accounts in tax havens. This kind of seems like a no-brainer. How did this go over amongst the voters in Ecuador, Greg?

GREG WILPERT: Yes, exactly. You'd think that should fly through with 100% or so. Or maybe, you know, the 1% that have money in tax havens might vote against it. But, actually, it only passed with 55% of the vote. Which is kind of surprising and I don't really have an explanation for why it didn't get a higher percentage. Especially considering that, you know, all it says is that politicians should not hold assets in tax havens. Of course, the right has been campaigning against that, including Guillermo Lasso, the runner up.

And, I mean, they're basically saying, "You know, we should have a right to have money anywhere we want as long as we declare it." But that's part of the problem, of course, is that part of the reason why people who keep it in those tax havens is precisely because that's how they avoid declaring it, and avoid paying taxes on it. So, you'd think that people would be for it. But it was also partly, I think, a political maneuver to put this on the ballot because Correa suspected that a majority would support it. And therefore they would also then support his candidate, and who's the main one to support that referendum. That could still happen. That is, in the run-off. If it comes to a run-off, and it probably will. Maybe something like 55% will vote for, which voted for the referendum, will also vote for Lenin Moreno on April 2nd.

KIM BROWN: Well, we certainly await the final results of this very interesting and important election happening in Ecuador. We've been joined by political sociologist and Real News producer, Greg Wilpert. He's been on the line from Quito. Greg, we appreciate your reporting on this. Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: Sure, no problem.

KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.




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