Ecuador’s Correa Declares Re-Election Victory

By Dialogo
April 27, 2009

Populist President Rafael Correa appeared headed for an outright election victory, according to partial results, which would make the leftist economist the first Ecuadorean president in 30 years to be chosen without a runoff vote. Correa won 51 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate field in Sunday's election, according to unofficial results based on more than three-quarters of ballots cast. Official results put Correa at 49 percent with 11 percent of the votes counted. Correa had vowed upon first taking office in January 2007 to rid this small, traditionally unstable Andean nation of a corrupt political class that had for decades siphoned off oil wealth. Now, he could have eight more years in power managing a government that gets 40 percent of its budget from a distressed petroleum industry. Ecuador's oil revenues plunged 67 percent in the first quarter. Added to the pain is a drop of more than one-fifth the value of remittances from Ecuadoreans abroad. The International Monetary Fund predicts Ecuador's economy will shrink by 2 percent this year. Correa claimed victory Sunday evening, and he, his ministers and close advisers celebrated by singing their party anthem, dancing and pumping their fists in the air. "It is our pledge to eradicate misery and leave a more just, fair and dignified country — with greater solidarity," Correa told supporters. An unofficial count of 77 percent of the vote by the independent, nonpartisan citizens' group Participacion Cuidadana gave Correa 51 percent to 28 percent for former president and coup leader Lucio Gutierrez, his closest competitor. With a little more than 11 percent of the vote counted, official results gave Correa 49 percent compared to about 31 percent for Gutierrez. Banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, whom Correa defeated in a 2006 runoff, had 11 percent. To win without forcing a runoff, a candidate needed either 50 percent of the vote plus one or at least 40 percent with a 10-point margin over his closest competitor. Sunday's elections were mandated under a new constitution voters approved in September that, in addition to giving Correa greater control over spending and the central bank, makes him eligible to run in 2013 for another four-year term. Voters also chose a new 124-seat National Assembly — six seats of which will directly represent the Ecuadorean diaspora — as well as governors and mayors. Exit polls indicated Correa's Alianza Pais party and allies won a majority in the new congress. Correa, 46, blames the global economic crisis on capitalism's "structural flaws" and has alienated foreign investors by defaulting on foreign debt payments and for his hard bargaining with oil companies and other multinationals. He's also imposed, mostly as tariffs, some of the world's strictest protectionist measures. That has put imported goods out of reach for many consumers. But Correa has firm lower-class allegiance. He has tripled state spending on education and health care and doubled a monthly payment for single mothers. The new constitution guarantees free education through university. Many who voted for Gutierrez said they blamed Correa for rising unemployment, which hit 8.6 percent in the first quarter, and inflation now running at 7.4 percent annually. "Correa's ability to manage expectations will be put to a test," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "His government may have little choice but to resort to the same international financial institutions that had been the target of his political attacks." Correa severed ties with the IMF in 2007, calling it exploitative of countries like Ecuador for imposing loan requirements that benefit bankers and private interests at the expense of the poor. But like many Latin America nations these days, he is accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from multinational leaders including the Inter-American Development Bank. He could also lean on China. It recently offered Ecuador a $1 billion loan to help it deal with an estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit this year. Private international lenders were upset by Correa's defaulting on interest payments representing 32 percent of Ecuador's $10.1 billion in foreign debt. But Ecuadoreans may win out. Correa's government said last week that it would seek to buy that debt back at a 30 cents on the dollar.