By Sylvan Hardy
It came as no surprise when President Lenin Moreno, two weeks ago, referred to former president Rafael Correa as the “opposition.” The two have been firing verbal broadsides at each other since shortly after Moreno replaced Correa in Ecuador’s presidential palace last May.
The comment, however, serves as a reminder of how the fight between the presidents has disrupted traditional political alliances in the country.
In the lead-up to last year’s presidential and National Assembly elections, the center-right CREO political party and its presidential candidate, Guillermo Lasso, based their agenda on four themes: restoring individual rights, especially the right of free speech and free association, reducing the power of the central government, fighting corruption, and scaling back government regulation and taxation of business.
Since the election, Moreno has effectively appropriated all of those objectives, leaving the opposition without key talking points.
“The political opposition in Ecuador is almost rudderless today,” says Carlos Espinosa, adjunct history professor at San Francisco University in Quito. “Moreno has taken over their positions and even though there are important difference between his positions and those of Lasso and other opposition figures, the public only sees the big picture and doesn’t make distinctions,” he says.
In fact, Lasso, who lost narrowly to Moreno in the May runoff election, has found himself in the position of supporting all the president’s referendum questions, the most important being one that precludes Correa from running again for president. Lasso and CREO have also come to the support of Moreno on a number of occasions in the conflict between the Alianza País National Assembly supporters of Correa.
In an interview two weeks ago, Lasso admitted that Moreno has stolen some of his fire. “It’s uncomfortable but I have to admit that the president and I are allies on some issues, particularly as they relate the referendum,” Lasso said in a radio interview. “We strongly support the elimination of indefinite term limits, especially for the presidency, and we want to reduce the size and reach of government.”
In addition to restoring term limits, Lasso is also a strong supporter of the referendum question that would restructure the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control that he claims was an unjustified extension of executive power created by Correa. Although the referendum question does not eliminate the council altogether, it reduces its authority to oversee a variety of government functions and to make official appointments.
Lasso maintains that he has major differences with Moreno on issues of business regulation and government financing. “He has taken small steps to reduce the burden on private business but what we need are large, bold measures for real recovery. And, despite the rhetoric, he has done little to change the mechanisms for funding the government, which still rely heavily on borrowing. In many ways, he is continuing the policies of Correa.”
According to Espinosa, Moreno has always been and continues to be a leftist. “In the conflict with Correa, this fact has been lost to many people. This is why many of Correa’s policies have been maintained under Moreno and this is why many of the bureaucrats in the Correa administration, for better or worse, are still on the job to today. This is also where the rightist and centrist political movements in Ecuador have significant differences with the new government.”
Espinosa believes that the political opposition will reform after the referendum. “After the election, this will be Moreno’s government. He will win his issues with Correa and will no longer have Correa to use as a whipping boy. At that point, I believe that the traditional political alliances will reform.”