Taking on a furious, often acrimonious tone, Ecuador’s campaign for local offices ends today at midnight. National law mandates a 48-hour quiet period before Sunday’s voting.
For the record, this will be the 23rd election in Ecuador’s modern democratic period, which began in 1978 with the end of military rule.
President Rafael Correa has played a vocal role in the final days ot the campaign, apparently concerned about the fate his PAIS party candidates in mayoral and prefect races in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.
He has campaigned relentlessly for embattled Quito Mayor Augusto Barrera, who is trailing challenger Mauricio Rodas in the polls, claiming that the future of the “Citizens’ Revolution” will be jeaparized if Barrera loses. Correa has warned that a Rodas victory could lead Ecuador into an era of public unrest similar to what is occurring in Venezuela.
He was in Guayaquil Wednesday night campaigning for Viviana Bonilla, who is opposing incumbent mayor Jaime Nebot. Polls indicate that Nebot, who has clashed with Correa frequently, is maintaining a comfortable lead.
Today, Correa was scheduled to be in Cuenca at mid-day, stumping for Mayor Paúl Granda in his race against former mayor Marcelo Cabrera, as well as for María Caridad who is challenging incumbent provincial prefect Paúl Carrasco. Granda, a member of PAIS, is in a contest that is “too close to call” with Cabrera, who has charged that Granda has squandered public money and failed to develop a comprehensive transportation plan.
According to political observers, Correa may have reason to be concerned about the elections. He is a lame duck, in the final three years of a 10-year presidency, with few formidable replacements in sight. He has picked a number of young women to carry the PAIS standard, including Gabriela Rivadeneira, president of the National Assembly, Bonilla and Caridad, but critics say they are not battle tested and have relatively little political experience.
“He has chosen attractive young ladies to carry the banner but there is little indication that they can fill his shoes,” says Gustavo Perez, an adjunct professor at the Uniersity of San Francisco-Quito. “Correa’s movement is built almost entirely on his charisma and personality and he needs strong replacements to continue his work. We all like pretty yourng women, but they must come with saavy and experience to lead the PAIS movement forward.” Perez adds, “I think he was right to worry about the future.”
Loses in the mayor’s races in Quito and Cuenca will be a major embarrassment for Correa, Perez and others say, and could indicate a change in Ecuador’s poltical winds.
Political polls are notoriously inaccurate in Ecuador, Perez says. “I don’t put that much weight on them but the fact that Correa is campaigning so hard shows that he thinks his people are in trouble.”
Photo caption: Correa campaigns Wednesday night with Guayaquil PAIS mayoral candidate Viviana Bonilla.