Although political insiders knew that Sunday’s elections could be a slap in President Rafael Correa’s face, few expected it to also be a hard kick in the rump.
The election results in local and provincial elections saw Correa’s PAIS party’s mayoral candidates go down to resounding defeats in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, as well as in Machala and Manta. In all, voters in the country’s seven largest cities, representing almost 50% of all voters, chose opposition candidates
PAIS officials had quietly conceded the Guayaquil race in which popular incumbent Jamie Nebot appaered well ahead of Correa’s hand-picked challenger, attorney Viviana Bonilla, but they were hopeful that incumbents Augusto Barrera and Paúl Granda would pull thorugh in Quito and Cuenca.
In the Quito mayor’s race, preliminary figures show challenger Mauricio Rodas winning in a landslide, 59% to 38%. Results were similar in Guayaquil, where Nebot drew 57% of the vote against 39% for Bonilla. The Cuenca race was closer, although former mayor Marcelo Cabrera held an unsurmountable 8% lead ahead of the final retabulation.
Most embarrassing for Correa, was Barrera’s loss in Quito. Correa had campaigned hard for Barrera in the last two week, warning that a Rodas victory would be a blow to the president’s “Citizens’ Revolution” and could lead to Venezuela-style political uprisings. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for PAIS since, less than a month ago, Barrera appeared to have a comfortable lead.
The Rodas’s victory may respresent a shift to the right from Correa’s socialist agenda in Quito, although Rodas downplayed political overtones. “I respect the president and what he has accomplished and I intend to work with him for the benefit of the city of Quito.”
Rodas was defeated soundly by Correa in the 2013 presidential race.
In Guayaquil, Nebot was less diplomatic and called the election a repudiation of Correa’s agenda. Speaking to supporters, Nebot, who is frequent critic of the president said, “No one can impose another model on Guayaquil from outside. Correa’s revolution has been defeated not just here but also in Quito.”
In Cuenca, the political implications are more difficult to guage since Cabrera appears to be to the left of Correa on some issues, such as mining, oil drilling in the Yasuni preserve and indigenous rights.
In a post election press conference, Correa conceded that mistakes had been made and said he plans to analyze the results. He said, however, that most Ecuadorians voted for personalities not philosophies and pointed out that PAIS had won or retained nine provincial prefectories. In response to one question, he appeared to backpedal on the claim that a Rodas victory could lead to public unrest. “I believe we can work together,” Correa said.
Although he is a lame duck president, in the final three years of his presidency, Correa is in no danger of losing authority over his national program. The National Assembly, which was not up for reelection, has a 60% PAIS majority. The question is whether Correa will take counsel from the defeat of PAIS candidates.
Much more significant than yesterday’s election is the future of PAIS beyond the Correa presidency. The party, as well as the philosophy behind the “Citizens’ Revolution” is primarily a function of the president’s personal power, charm and charisma, which everyone agrees is considerable. To date, there appear to be no serious heir apparents to Correa despite his grooming of several potential candidates, most notably Gabriela Rivadeneira, president of the National Assembly. The big question, ultimately, is whether the “revolution” can continue without its chief revolutionary.
Photo caption: Mauricio Rodas celebrates victory in Quito; Marcelo Cabrera during his Sunday afternoon victory parade in Cuenca; photo credit: El Comercio, El Tiempo