By Liam Higgins
With the results of the popular referendum in the books, Ecuador’s political parties are turning their attention the 2019 provincial, municipal and parochial elections.
The elections take on added importance due to the number of mayors and provincial prefects who will be forced to step down as a result of referendum results which limit election officials to two terms in office. “This will be one of the most important elections in recent history, even though the presidency and National Assembly seats are not at stake,” says Fernando Ruiz, University of San Francisco-Quito political science professor.
According to Ruiz, 46 mayors and 15 prefects will leave positions they have held for eight years or more. “This means there will be significant changes in autonomous [local] governments and, in many ways, these will have a larger impact on citizens than nationwide elections,” he says.
The election will also provide a gauge of President Lenin Moreno’s popularity. Ruiz and other political observers point out that much of Moreno’s appeal has been based on his efforts to reverse some of the policies of former president Rafael Correa.
“This is now Moreno’s government and he can no longer blame Correa for his problems,” says popular radio commentator Carlos Lopez. “He must now stand on his own and in 2019, voters will reward or punish candidates from Aliazna Pais for the results of the next two years. Opposition parties are already seeing an opportunity and will campaign on the fact that Moreno is continuing most of the Correa policies.”
Ruiz points back to the 2015 mid-term elections as an example of the challenge Moreno faces. “In the 2015 election, when key AP incumbents were voted out of office, voters sent a clear message to Correa that he was in political trouble,” he says. “The results showed that much of his original support had evaporated, particularly that of the lower classes. Moreno has to watch out for the same thing as well as the challenge from the right, which is not happy with many of his positions.”
Lopez does not rule out challenges from former members of Alianza Pais loyal to Correa. “Based on what we saw in the referendum, this groups still has a base of 18 percent to 20 percent of voters, although the level of support will continue to decline,” he says. “Although the big challenge will come from the right, don’t count out the Correistas.”