Rafael Correa’s re-election in Ecuador’s February 17th presidential election was a foregone conclusion, but even so his margin of victory was unexpected. Correa won 57 percent of the vote, a notable increase over the 52 percent he won in 2009. Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso came in second place with 23 percent of the vote.
Correa won on the power of redirecting state resources to marginalized communities, which resulted in dramatically reducing poverty rates. Improvements in tax collection have increased the government coffers. He also promises to grow the economy through increased oil production and the launching of large-scale mining of gold and copper reserves.
Ecuador’s notoriously inaccurate opinion polls had predicted a closer election, with some indications that the presidential race might be pushed into a second round. To avoid a runoff election, Correa needed either to win an outright majority, or 40 percent of the vote with at least a 10 percent margin over the nearest competitor.
In part, the expectations of a close election were fueled by a May 2011 constitutional referendum that barely passed despite opinion and exit polls that pointed to an easy victory. In addition, some Correa supporters had indicated that they would vote against the president in an attempt to slow the growth of presidential power.
Surprising was how poorly Ecuador’s left fared in the election. Former close Correa ally Alberto Acosta running at the head of a leftist coalition that opposes the government’s neo-extractivist policies won just 3 percent of the vote, barely above the 2 percent that the Indigenous leader Luis Macas polled in the 2006 election.
Acosta ran on an economic platform similar to that of Correa, but with the support of Ecuador’s historically strong social movements that have become estranged from the president over his repression of those who oppose his extractivist development policies. Earlier polls had indicated that Acosta had much higher levels of support, and might even push Correa into a runoff race.
A second leftist candidate Norman Wray, running on a platform of social issues including opposition to Correa’s rejection of gay marriage and reproductive rights, fared even worse that Acosta.
The fragmented right-wing vote was spread across five candidates, and together gained about a third of the votes. Even if they had managed to unify across their deeply entrenched divisions, they would not have come close to unseating Correa.
Previously strong candidates Lucio Gutiérrez and Álvaro Noboa, and Nelson Zavala who was a stand-in for former president Abdalá Bucaram, had weak showings. Many of their supporters opted instead for newcomer Guillermo Lasso who was Correa’s strongest challenger.
As Correa made clear during the campaign, a more important issue was control over the 137-member National Assembly. Preliminary results indicate that Correa’s ruling Alianza País coalition will win a slim majority in the chamber.
Leftist parties won about 10 percent of the congressional vote, with the balance spread across Ecuador’s fragmented right wing. The largest vote, less than 15 percent, went to Guillermo Lasso’s new political party CREO. Ecuador’s previously strong oligarchical parties have all but disappeared.
Correa will be reinaugurated on May 24, Ecuador’s independence day, for his third term in office. Four years ago, Correa made history when he was the first president in Ecuador to be re-elected, and subsequently made history again when he served longer in office than any other previous president.
Correa’s re-election will give him a mandate until 2017, for a full ten years in office. The current constitution does not allow for subsequent re-election, and no moves have been made to alter that provision.
At this point, no heir apparent is waiting in the wings to assume Correa’s mantle at the end of his term.
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