“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds”. The old Mexican proverb never sounded more true than in the early hours of the morning of March 25 across Ecuador.
The local and regional elections that took place the previous day were meant to put a definitive end to the political phenomenon of the Citizens Revolution and bury, once and for all, the legacy of former left-wing president Rafael Correa.
Correa’s 10 years in power from 2007 to 2017 has been named “the victorious decade” for its achievements in reducing poverty, inequality and bringing back political and economic stability.
New political map
The newly formed electoral list, Fuerza Compromiso Social (FCS), comprising Correa’s allies and the former militants of the Alianza Pais (Country Alliance) party won prefecture elections in two of the three most populous regions in Ecuador — Pichincha (which includes the capital, Quito) and Manabí — and gained a number of seats on the Quito Metropolitan City Council.
The traditional right-wing and conservative parties also achieved gains throughout the country. The Social Christian Party (PSC) of Jaime Nebot won eight prefectures and the SUMA-CREO parties, supported by notorious corporate banker Guillermo Lasso and outgoing mayor of Quito Mauricio Rodas, achieved victories in three prefectures. Between them, they also won a total of 89 mayoralties, although the majority are clustered around Guayas province — their traditional stronghold.
New political parties not affiliated to Correa or the traditional right wing also made their entrance onto the political scene. Movimiento Union Ecuatoriana, Movimiento Democracia Si (allied with President Lenín Moreno) and Movimiento Nacional Juntos Podemos won 8 prefectures and 57 mayoralties.
Significantly, a number of political forces previously opposed to and supportive of Correa’s government re-emerged. Democratic Centre, Popular Unity and the Socialist Party of Ecuador won 6 prefectures and 42 mayoralties across the country.
Pachakutik, the indigenous political party affiliated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador — which opposed Correa’s presidency during most of his tenure and increasingly aligned itself with the right-wing opposition in recent years — won 4 prefectures and 18 mayoralties.
In the vacuum created by the collapse of Alianza Pais, the new political map shows no clear political hegemony from the country’s traditional right-wing parties, the newly emerged political alliances or the pro-Correa FCS electoral front. However, the FCS success stands in stark contrast to the long-established political forces.
FCS was formed and electorally registered in December last year. It managed to establish itself as the most effective political opposition to Moreno’s neoliberal government, despite lacking any significant financial resources, having no electoral machinery and being effectively blocked and sidelined by the country’s private and public media. It relied upon newly-formed networks of militants and grassroots activists across the country, social media organising and support from Correa.
Even Nebot, a long-time opponent of Correa and the Citizens’ Revolution, acknowledged that he and his movement continue playing an important part in the country’s political scene.
Fraud plagues vote counts
Prior to election day and throughout the following week, the process was marred by a series of controversies and irregularities in vote counts and allegations of fraud.
First, a series of statements by the National Electoral Council (CNE) indicated that the elections to the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) would undergo a major change in the counting of ballots, whereby invalid votes would be counted as three blank votes, thus increasing the likelihood of annulment of the results.
The CPCCS is an elected body overseeing the appointment of legal officials such as Attorney General, Comptroller General, members of the National Electoral Council, Human Rights Ombudsman and the judicial oversight board. It was considered an important milestone of the Citizens Revolution and the country’s 2008 constitution. The elections would have given Ecuadorian voters a chance to elect a new council, with independent candidates endorsed by Correa and his allies likely to wrestle 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 reverse its decision, however the final results will lie in the hands of the Electoral Dispute Court.
Attempts to invalidate Correa’s allies and the overall vote did not stop there, however.
A blackout occurred in the early hours of the March 25 throughout 14 sectors of the country, and more than 498 incidents concerning the electoral process were reported at polling stations.
Most notably, the CNE website was inaccessible during the early hours of March 25, following which a number of drastic changes occurred in the final vote count for the CPCCS. Prior to the website crash, pro-Correa candidates Walter Gomez and Garciela Mora were leading the vote with 15–16%. After the website crash, their results changed to 5–6%. Formal complaints have been made by candidates to the CNE.
Luisa Maldonado, an FCS candidate for mayor in Quito, has refused to recognise the official results. Maldonado gained 18.42% of the vote, behind the proclaimed winner, independent candidate Jorge Yunda with 21.33%.
Maldonado’s argument was based on the clear victories by the FCS in the Pichincha province and Quito city council, as well as a large number of inconsistencies in at least 10% of ballots that the CNE has not yet investigated.
In an unusual twist that illustrates Moreno’s new-found alliance with the United States and its foreign policy, US ambassador Todd Chapman was spotted visiting the CNE headquarters and allegedly participating as an official electoral observer. This display of interference was widely condemned on social media as illegal under the current electoral rules that forbid foreign powers observing or interfering in the process.
The official investigation into Moreno’s secret offshore bank accounts in Panama and the commencement of International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms following the $4.2 billion loan package, combined with the events of the past week, illustrate the instability and chaos brought about by the country’s sharp turn to neoliberalism and its alignment to the US.
The “decade of triumph” of Rafael Correa’s government now seems like a cherished (albeit a distant) memory to his supporters and detractors alike.