By Liam O’Higgins
Although President Rafeal Correa was the headliner at Tuesday’s report to the nation convocation in Quito, former Vice President Lenin Moreno almost stole the show.
Moreno received an extended standing ovation as he entered the main hall of the National Assembly before Correa spoke. Current Vice President Jorge Glas, who entered the hall moments later, was all but ignored.
Moreno’s reception underscored what most political observers have known for months, that the former vice president is the overwhelming favorite to be the Alianza Pais party’s nominee to succeed Correa in the presidency. Glas, President of the National Assembly Gabriela Rivadeneira, and several cabinet members have also been mentioned as possible successors, but it is clear that the job is Moreno’s for the taking if he wants it.
Not only is Moreno the favorite among Alianza Pais faithful, but three polls show him the solid favorite among all Ecuadorian voters. He polls in the mid-30s while all other potential candidates have less than 12% public support. Although opposition to the Correa administration is building, it is splintered across the political spectrum and unlikely to find consensus before the 2017 elections.
Most important for Moreno, who left the vice presidency in 2013, his popularity does not appear tied to Correa’s. Although he describes himself as center left and says he supports the policies of Alianza Pais, friends say he would likely chart a different political course than Correa, emphasizing compromise and unity over broad government authority.
To date, Moreno has been noncommittal about a presidential run and has said on several occasions that he is inclined not to enter the race. The issue will probably not be decided until August when the Alianza Pais holds its nominating convention.
One of Moreno’s reasons for refusing to commit is his health. He was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a 1998 shooting in Quito and has been confined to a wheel chair ever since. Following the shooting, he endured intense pain for several years, turning finally to what he calls humor therapy to overcome it.
He has lectured widely on how to use humor to overcome pain and has written two books on the subject. He has also become a fierce advocate for the rights of the disabled and introduced several laws in the National Assembly to improve accessibility for the disabled in public buildings.
His international reputation led to his current job as United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. He is currently based at UN European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2012, he was nominated for the Noble Prize due to his efforts on behalf of the disabled.
In large part, it is Moreno’s upbeat, courteous, can-do attitude that make him attractive to voters. His personality is in stark constrast to Correa’s often argumentative and testy nature and Alianza Pais party strategists are well aware that a change of attitude will probably be necessary if the party is to hold the presidency after the 2017 elections.