By Sylvan Hardy
Within a matter of weeks, President Rafael Correa has rewritten the script for Ecuador’s political future.
Beginning a month ago in interviews with several news outlets, including Forbes Magazine, Correa said he would not seek another term as president even if the constitution is amended to allow it. He followed up in the last two weeks by insisting that wording be included in the proposed indefinite reelection amendment prohibiting himself and members of the National Assembly from taking immediate advantage of it. He and assembly members who are in their second term would have to sit out an election cycle if they want to continue their public service, he said.
According to Correa, the amendment would be seen as nothing more than a power grab if he and Assembly members use it to stay in office. “It would be an act of arrogance and would lose all credibility,” he said.
Suddenly, those opposed to the amendment based on the assumption that Correa would run again were without their headline issue. At the same time, Correa’s Alianza Pais majority in the Assembly had their hopes dashed for a continuation of status quo of governance.
Since the idea of ending term limits first emerged two years ago, Correa has said he planned to leave office at the end of his current term in 2017. Until recently, however, he had left the door open to another term based on a threat of a “conservative restoration” from political opponents, and most people assumed he would run again.
Part of his change of heart, apparently, is his growing confidence that Alianza Pais can win the presidency and maintain control of the Assembly with new candidates. Political analysts say Correa’s confidence is justified. The opposition is almost evenly divided between the right and left, with no possibility that they would come together to support common candidates. At the same time, Correa’s government continues to boast unprecedented levels of public support.
Correa says that former and current vice presidents, Lenin Moreno and Jorge Glas, will be able to succeed him, and he’s probably right.
Within Correa’s own administration, opinion is divided on whether he will return for another run for the presidency in 2021. Even with bad economic times looming, Correa, based on his popularity, would probably be a shoo-in if he decides to seek another term. Others, however, say he may decide to remain in academic life. He has a standing offer to join a university faculty in Belgium where he and his wife, who is from Brussels, have a home.
Almost as important as the reelection issue but receiving far less press coverage, was the decision by Correa to abandon efforts to raise the inheritance and capital gains taxes. Although he says the issues could be revived in a few years, he admits that now is not the time for an acrimonious “wealth distribution” fight. Legislation introduced last month to close loopholes in inheritance tax collection, including prohibitions against the use of trusts and off shore accounts for that purpose, will increase tax collections without inciting large anti-government protests that erupted against the original tax proposals.
Although it is far too early to speculate on how Correa’s recent moves will play out, it is already clear that they have rearranged the country’s political debate. If nothing else, it allows the country to concentrate on other issues, economic and environmental, that need its full attention.