Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ecuador's president re-elected

There are things to both like and dislike about this election result:
President Rafael Correa, a dynamic leftist who has championed Ecuador's lower classes with generous social spending but faced wide rebuke as intolerant of dissent, coasted to a second re-election on Sunday.

Correa won 56.7 percent of the vote against 24 percent for his closest challenger, former Banco de Guayaquil chief Guillermo Lasso, with 36 percent of the vote counted.
Correa was originally elected in 2006 - at the time I wondered how long he would last, given the picturesque Andean nation's political turmoil - and was re-elected following changes to the nation's constitution in 2009. How has he done so far?
Correa, 48, has brought uncharacteristic political stability and modest economic growth to this oil-exporting nation of 14.6 million people that cycled through seven presidents in the decade before him.

He has raised living standards for the poor and widened the welfare state with region-leading social spending, though human rights groups say he bullies anyone who gets in his way and civil liberties have suffered.
Among Correa's accomplishments are improvements to the nation's health care, education and transportation systems. The number of impoverished people living in Ecuador has also decreased several percentage points under his presidency, if a United Nations report is to be believed.
But Correa has also arbitrarily wielded a near-monopoly on state power, critics say, using criminal libel law against opposition news media and seizing the country's airwaves several times a week to spread his political gospel and attack opponents.
These tactics shouldn't come as a surprise; Correa is merely borrowing a page from the playbook of his "personal friend," ailing Venezuelan quasi-dictator Hugo Chavez. While it's possible that Correa's heavy-handed tactics against his opposition have contributed to Ecuador's much-needed recent economic and political stability, it's nevertheless disappointing. There's also this:
In all, 1.9 million people receive $50 a month in aid from the state. Critics complain that the popular handouts to single mothers, needy families and the elderly poor, along with other subsidies, have bloated the government.

The number of people working for the government has burgeoned from 16,000 to 90,000 during Correa's current term, Ecuador's nongovernmental Observatory of Fiscal Policy said in a December report.

Correa also has been unable to stop a growing sensation of vulnerability in a country where robberies and burglaries grew 30 percent in 2012 compared with the previous year.
That last sentence reinforces what I've said recently about Ecuador's crime rate: that is truly one of the nation's most pressing problems right now. That he's doling out money to the needy (which Correa can do, thanks to high oil prices) and massively expanding the government payroll should come as no surprise, given his leftist philosophy. I can only wonder what those new 74,000 government jobs represent: its understandable if a large number of those jobs are a result of expanded education and healthcare services, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of those jobs represent little more than bureaucratic bloat.

At any rate, the Ecuadorean people have decided that - for better or for worse - they want another four years of Correa's policies, and earlier today he outlined his plans to push through even more radical reforms, while still focusing on encouraging more foreign investment in his country. It would be nice for Correa to be able to accomplish his goals without further eroding press freedoms and civil liberties. But, now that he's been re-elected with over 55% of the vote, Ecuador can likely expect to see more of the same - again, for better or for worse - from the current inhabitant of the Carondelet Palace.

Correa will be re-inaugurated on May 24th. Provided he completes it, by the time his second term ends in 2017 he will have been president for ten consecutive years, a feat unprecedented in Ecuador's turbulent political history.

The Guardian's Mike Weisbrot explains Correa's popularity. The Economist is a bit more skeptical.

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