Monday, February 18, 2013

Ecuador's Correa rides to third term

Now, everbody, come kiss my ring
Ecuador's Rafael Correa won a third term in office on Sunday with approximately 57% of the national vote. The results don't look that different from his 2009 victory when he won with 52% and everyone else split the rest of the vote.

Why did he win? Well, everybody seems to agree that he was helped by a strong economy fueled by oil revenue. Poverty has been reduced and he has invested heavily in infrastructure and a variety of social programs. Lots of patronage. He has also brought stability to a country that has not known political stability in recent year. His standing up to foreign interests might also have helped him to win some voters.

What's not to like? His attacks against the press. The weakening of the country's judiciary. Basically, his intolerance towards those who hold opinions different from his own.

But there's also just a lot that we don't know yet or that is a matter of perception. The AP calls him a "a practitioner of one-man rule in the Chavez mold." He has consolidated power in the presidency but has promised to step down after this presidential period. Nathaniel Flannery, writing at Forbes, doesn't believe he will confront any difficulties should he change his mind. With a new four-year term coming, no one knows as of yet whether he will try to extend his term.

Reuters describes him as "pugnacious" and a "firebrand." The AP calls him "fiery-tongued." Flannery describes him as a "politically savvy and pragmatic president who is prone to occasional rhetorical flourishes when discussing the United States." He exhibits "strident anti-American rhetoric" but some believe that he has recently toned it down. The first two descriptions lead many to suggest that he might replace Chavez as the leader of the anti-American bloc in Latin America. Dedicating his victory to Chavez provides a little fuel to the fire here as well. However, other more pragmatic descriptions of him, and Chavez's sudden return to Venezuela, make it look like he's not one for the job. Again, we don't know.

There's also a bit of uncertainty as to the sustainability of the economic model. Where are oil prices going? Even with high oil prices, can his government sustain the large number of people added to government payrolls in recent years? Can Ecuador win foreign investment?

I don't have any answers to these questions and I'm not sure that anyone does yet. Like many things, we'll just have to wait and see how they play out.

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