Ecuador's Moreno wins referendum, but Correa's Citizens' Revolution retains strong base

February 8, 2018
Rafael Correa greets his supporters in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the day after the February 4 referendum.

Ecuador’s February 4 “popular consultation” resulted in a victory for the government of President Lenin Moreno, with the Yes option obtaining an average vote of 67% across the seven questions included in the referendum.

Among the proposals put forward in the referendum initiated by Moreno were: a ban on indefinite re-election, changing the structure of the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), and repealing the speculation superprofits tax levied on the sale of land properties and real estate introduced by previous left-wing president, Rafael Correa.

At first glance, the result is a setback for Correa, who led the No campaign alongside the newly formed Citizens’ Revolution Movement (MCR), which is made up of pro-Correa activists who split from the ruling PAIS Alliance.

Correa and a majority of former PAIS Alliance activists – view Moreno as a “traitor”. They say he has failed to honour his commitment to continue the policies of the pro-poor Citizens’ Revolution that was kick-started by Correa’s election in 2007.

They saw the popular consultation as a further attempt by Moreno, who served as vice-president for six years under Correa, to roll back some of the achievements and reforms of the Citizens’ Revolution.

Many also viewed it as a manoeuvre to ensure Correa could not stand in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2021.

The right-wing opposition – the vast majority of which actively campaigned for a Yes vote – have hailed the result as a victory.

Breakdown of vote

However, a closer look at the breakdown of the vote reveals some important details about the future challenges Moreno faces if he chooses to continue down his current path of attempting to dismantle the legacy and achievements of the Citizens’ Revolution.

While the No vote was primarily championed by Correa and MCR activists, the Yes campaign received the backing of almost all political parties and politicians, together with the support of the country’s private and newly-reformed public media.

Some of the key figures in the Yes campaign included: right-wing Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot; Guillermo Lasso, a corporate banker who was Moreno’s main rival in last April’s presidential elections; and former presidents Abdala Bucaram and Lucio Gutierrez.

The Yes vote was also backed by some smaller left-wing parties.

When breaking down the vote, analysts have generally attributed 28% of the vote to Lasso supporters, 16% to Nebot backers and 4.8% and 0.7% to Bucaram and Gutierrez followers, respectively. Together with Moreno supporters, who are estimated to have made up 2% of the vote, this right-left alliance obtained 67% of the vote.

In contrast, the 33% No vote can be directly attributed to the campaign run by Correa and his supporters, effectively eclipsing the vote received by any single group backing the Yes vote.

Despite a highly uneven political terrain, Correa and his MCR continue to be the largest single political force in the country.

Legal challenges

The popular consultation was beset by legal challenges from as soon as the results were announced.

The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) have filed complaints against certain aspects of the referendum campaign and the content of the questions.

The OAS has questioned the legality of the process used by Moreno to initiate the referendum. While in recent years popular consultations and referendums have received the approval of the Constitutional Court before being formally convened, Moreno’s government chose to effectively bypass the court’s ruling.

When the Constitutional Court called for public hearings to assess the validity of the referendum’s questions, Moreno publicly demanded that the court approve the referendum’s questions and that two of the court’s judges be investigated and sanctioned for voicing their opposition to this measure.

The CIDH has ruled against the immediate removal of all functionaries within the civil, electoral and juridical service and their replacement with a “transitory committee” selected by Moreno himself.

Under Moreno’s proposed changes to the CPCCS, current members of the committee – which oversees the process of selecting the attorney general, representatives to the electoral council, the comptroller general and other positions within the state – would be removed before the end of their constitutional term and replaced by a “transitory” committee. This would be appointed directly by the president.

This would effectively giving Moreno direct oversight over the future direction and political alignment of these bodies.

Moreno has rejected these claims and demanded that international bodies respect the result of the consultation.

He has also rejected any claims of seeking “agreements” with the right-wing opposition following the consultation results – although these claims are arguably valid given his previous cooperation with them.

Shortly after being elected, Moreno commenced a “national dialogue” of reconciliation, with the aim of fostering closer cooperation with members of the opposition, such Nebot and Bucaram. Moreno has gone as far as appointing individuals close to the Bucaram family to head of a number of hydroelectric projects.

Correa camp positive

The result did not seem to dampen the mood in the Correa camp.

By nightfall on February 4, Correa tweeted: “Following the failure of the military rebellion of February 4, 1992 against the corrupt government of Carlos Andres Perez, the young Hugo Chavez said: ‘For now, we have not achieved our objective’. The rest is history. 26 years later, we say the same, and the rest shall also become history.”

Correa’s reaction reflected the mood among those political forces that remain loyal to the project of the Citizens’ Revolution.

While the immediate electoral challenge was lost, the campaign itself has created a new organisational base for defending the gains and achievements of the previous decade of progress and change.

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