An ally of Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa and a conservative ex-banker are battling to become the next president in Sunday’s election in the face of corruption scandals and a lackluster economy. – Reuters reports:
Polls show 63-year-old former Vice President Lenin Moreno ahead, but the ruling party candidate, who has used a wheelchair since being shot during a 1998 robbery, appears to be just short of the minimum needed to win outright in the first round. That would trigger an April 2 runoff, probably against opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso, a 61-year-old former executive president of Banco de Guayaquil.
A Lasso administration would also seek quick renegotiation of opaque financing deals with China as well as lead regional opposition to crisis-hit Venezuela’s Socialist government, his running mate Andres Paez said in an interview.
Many Ecuadoreans doubt the 53-year-old Mr. Correa, who has maintained a tight grip on power since first elected in 2006, is exiting politics for good, The Wall Street Journal adds:
Instead, he will likely keep his hand on the political pulse of the small, Andean nation of 16 million through allies in his leftist Alianza País party, political analysts say, even as the party faces its first serious electoral challenge from conservative opponents amid voter concerns about a sputtering economy and a corruption scandal.
“He’s going to try to maintain his political influence,” said Simón Pachano, a professor of politics at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito. “He’s one of those caudillo leaders who can’t live without politics,” he added, using the Spanish term for strongman. “It’s like water for a fish.”
Between 2006 and 2011 Ecuador had the world’s most “inclusive” economic growth, according to ODI, a British think-tank; incomes of the poorest 40% of Ecuadoreans grew by eight times the national average. The poverty rate, which started falling in the early 2000s, came down further, from nearly 40% in 2006 to less than 23% in 2016, The Economist reports. But Ecuadoreans paid a high price for material progress in the form of creeping authoritarianism and continued corruption, it adds:
Campaigning in 2006 Mr Correa vowed to “depoliticize the courts”. In effect he seized control of them. A commission led by a former interior minister disciplines and often removes judges. Mr Correa made war on a critical press. He set up a regulator that harasses newspapers and radio stations by levying fines, often for such lapses as failing to cover a mayor’s speech.
The Ecuadoran National Police should swiftly bring to justice whoever sent award-winning TV journalist Janet Hinostroza (left) a makeshift explosive device, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The attempted attack took place days before general elections scheduled for February 19.
“Ecuadoran authorities should thoroughly investigate this serious incident and prosecute all those responsible,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “In the days leading up to the presidential elections it is critical that journalists are able to report on the problems facing Ecuador without fear.”
Under Correa, Ecuador has enacted a series of measures granting the government sweeping powers to punish its critics and curb public debate of its policies, notes Daniel Wilkinson, Managing Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch:
The next president will have the opportunity to roll back these measures, or exploit them to further debilitate the country’s democracy. One of the most problematic measures is a 2013 presidential decree that empowers the government to shut down nongovernmental organizations if it determines they have “move[d] away from the objectives for which [they were] created” or “compromise[d] public peace.”
The regime has tried a number of times to close down critical NGOs on the basis that they are not following government policy, notes Maina Kiai (left), the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
“We’re going to be active internationally against the fascist ‘Chavismo’ movement,” Paez said. “Not happy with destroying his country, (late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez) also wanted to destroy countries like ours.”