By Liam Higgins
President Rafael Correa said last week that he wants to settle the matter once and for all. “I will not be a candidate for president in the February election even if the law is changed,” he Tweeted.
To many, including those in his own Alianza País party, it had appeared in June and July that he was toying with the idea of running again despite earlier statements to the contrary. On one occasion in early July, he said he might run if opposition candidates “continue to spread lies” about his administration.
Speculation about his status was further fueled by the “Rafael Always With Us” campaign which collected over a million voter signatures to force a referendum to change the law and allow him to run for a fourth term.
Even if his candidacy is off the table, Correa will still play an outsized role in the campaign leading to the February election. “He will be the elephant in the room and the 800-pound gorilla — however you want to put it — in the next election,” says Quito political analyst Sebastian Mantilla. “He will select his successor — almost certainly one of the vice presidents (Jorge Glas and Lenin Moreno) — and he will be the main theme of the campaign. Without him, País is simply another weak political party among many,” he adds.
Mantilla says Correa’s role in the campaign has both an upside and a downside. “He has been in office for more than 10 years and, to many, represents stability after years of instability. He has changed the country in ways no other president has since (Aloy) Alfaro a century ago, and most people, even those in the opposition, believe much of it is for the better. New schools, highways, hydroelectric dams, hospitals stand monument all over the country.”
Mantilla adds: “He has also done more to help the poor people of Ecuador than any president in recent history. The poverty rate is down dramatically, basic education is much better and so is public health care.”
The biggest downside for Correa is the economy, Mantilla says. “He says the worst is over, but this is not clear. Yes, there are a few signs of recovery but most economists believe it will late this year or early in 2017 before real progress is evident,” Mantilla says.
Fernando Zamora, professor at the University of San Francisco in Quito agrees. “If the economy worsens before the election, Correa will take most of the blame with voters,” he says. “This would hurt the País presidential candidate as well as candidates for the National Assembly and cantonal and provincial elections.”
Another downside of Correa’s influence on País, says Zamora, is his governing style and the growth of government.
“Almost everyone agrees that his personality is abrasive. He is thin-skinned and does not accept criticism well. His fight with the media is the best example. He throws insults around freely and even though he sometimes apologizes later, the damage is usually done,” Zamora says.
“And then there is his voracious appetite for controlling things, adding new government regulations and expanding the role of government generally. One of the cornerstones of his government has been his fight with civil society, especially with non-government organizations,” says Zamora. “Polls show that voters disagree with his approach and it will be a big theme with opposition candidates.”
Zamora says he looks forward to the campaign. “It will be the most interesting race in years and probably the most entertaining. I visualize Correa hanging over the entire campaign like a big hot air balloon.”
He adds: “Buckle your seat belt. It will be a wild ride.”