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Ecuador Election Monitoring 2007, 2008

Published on 25th March 2017

Ecuador Election Monitoring

2007 Constituent Assembly Elections

Ecuador’s 2007 Constituent Assembly elections were an important benchmark for a country that was still trying to establish political legitimacy after going through 8 presidents in 10 years. One contemporary scholar pointed to this “practice of ousting presidents” as “evidence of the deep legitimacy crisis in Ecuador’s frail democratic polity.”[1] In 2006, however, the people elected as president democratic socialist and economist Rafael Correa, who immediately called for Constituent Assembly elections, which the Carter Center observed the following year. The main concerns of the center included “preparation of ballots and electoral material, the training of poll workers, how information about the voting process is provided to citizens, campaign publicity and political campaigns, the work of national observers, and the quick count.”[2]

Overall, the Center was pleased with the organization, efficiency, and transparency of Ecuador’s electoral institutions, but expressed some concern over allegations of the central government using its official publicity to campaign, which undermines fairness between the political movements. The Center recommended that clear campaign laws and a code of conduct be legislated in the future. In the end, the Center lauded that “the Ecuadorian people demonstrated their profound democratic vocation by voting peacefully…”[3] Correa’s party, the PAIS Alliance, won a commanding 72 of 130 seats in the assembly. After his party’s victory, Correa then called for a national referendum to gain approval for a new constitution. The Carter Center also observed this process.

2008 Constitutional Referendum

The referendum took place on September 28, 2008 and took the form of a simple “yes/no” vote on a constitution drafted by the new Constituent Assembly, a document notable for being the first in the world to legally codify environmental rights of the ecosystem.[4] It also contained “provisions aimed at reducing poverty as well as giving the president more control over the army and the right to stand for two more terms.”[5] Observation mission leaders Francisco Diaz and Jennifer McCoy met with major political, electoral, and media leaders and noted conscious efforts to increase transparency through digitization of voter information. One note of controversy occurred when opposition member Leon Roldos asserted that the constitution was ideologically modified in such a way that the Assembly did not have input, but the referendum went on. Another issue that the Center noted was that it seemed as though President Correa was using his influence in official office to move people to vote yes, while other public officials, including the mayor of Guayaquil, campaigned for a no vote. This brought into question use of public funds for these purposes.[6]

On the day of the referendum, monitors were dispatched to Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador’s largest cities and observed that, though there were some delays in polling station openings and not all poll workers were trained to properly assist voters with disabilities, the process was “transparent, peaceful, and well-organized.” The “yes” vote won with 63.93 percent of the vote over 28.1 percent for “no.”[7] The Center expressed a desire to continue to observe the transition into a new constitutional order and the 2009 presidential elections, and lauded Ecuadoreans on their achievement.

Developments Since Monitoring

Since election monitoring ended, the political status quo has remained in place. Correa won reelection in 2009 and did so a second time in 2013. His party and its coalition also achieved an overwhelming majority in the Assembly, 100 out of 137 seats.[8] Ecuador’s economic situation has improved greatly. Poverty is decreasing and Correa puts a priority on reducing economic dependence, particularly involving the United States, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. He is extraordinarily popular, garnering approval ratings around 80 percent, but his administration has not been without criticism. Concerns have surfaced relating to possible Authoritarian leanings. The new constitution did increase the power of the president, which has caused political unrest. The administration has made significant strides in increasing diversity for official positions, but indigenous groups decry Correa’s selling of rainforest land for Chinese oil exploration.[9] Correa also has a habit toward overt centralization and confrontational and incendiary rhetoric, and many have accused him of attempting to control the Ecuadorian press. Oftentimes, if a newspaper or media outlet creates an article overwhelmingly critical of his policies, they can expect a lawsuit and vehement accusations of libel from the president. He even attempted to jail journalists of a newspaper called La Hora.[10] The president of the Inter-American Press Association, in rebuttal, stated that the government’s actions are “obstructing processes that are natural and necessary in any democracy,”[11] and in 2014, Freedom House labelled Ecuador as “Not Free” concerning freedom of the press.[12] He also adamantly opposes civil society initiatives, calling them a “threat to democracy,” and the New York Times reported his administration’s consternation when civil society took the lead in support and relief for the devastating April 2016 earthquake.[13] Correa is constitutionally barred from running again for the office of president, though his party still retains significant majorities in the Assembly, so the 2017 election will be a significant next step for Ecuador.

Contributions of the Carter Center

Helped to facilitate a sense of legitimacy that was sorely lacking in Ecuadorean politics

Committed to the stabilization of that system by staying on to monitor multiple elections

Aided in the process of electoral reform in Ecuador through recommendations regarding efficiency, campaign finance, and fairness.

Notes

[1] Conaghan, Catherine M. “The 2006 Presidential and Congressional Elections in Ecuador.”  Electoral Studies volume 26, issue 4. December 2007, 823-828. http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.uky.edu/science/article/pii/S026137940700039X.

[2] Final Report on Ecuador’s September 30, 2007 Constituent Assembly Elections. The Carter Center. October 31, 2008. 11.

[3] Ibid., 13.

[4] Arias, Melissa. “Conversation with Natalia Greene about the Rights of Nature in Ecuador.” Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy. March 9, 2015. http://environment.yale.edu/envirocenter/post/conversation-with-natalia-greene-about-the-rights-of-nature-in-ecuador/.

[5] Siddique, Haroon. “Ecuador Referendum Endorses New Socialist Constitution.” The Guardian. September 29, 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2008/sep/29/ecuador.

[6] Final Report of Ecuador’s Approbatory Constitutional Referendum of September 28, 2008. The Carter Center. October 25, 2008. 6.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] “Republic of Ecuador Election for National Congress.” ElectionGuide: Democracy Assistance and Election News. February 17, 2013. http://www.electionguide.org/elections/id/1653/.

[9] Kaiman, Jonathan. “Controversial Ecuador Oil Deal Lets China Stake an $80-Million Claim to Pristine Amazon Rainforest.” Los Angeles Times. January 29, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-ecuador-china-oil-20160129-story.html.

[10] Higuera, Silvia. “Government of Ecuador to Sue Newspaper La Hora for a Third Time.” The University of Texas at Austin. April 8, 2013. https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-13473-government-ecuador-sues-newspaper-la-hora-third-time.

[11] “Ecuador’s Autocrat Cracks Down on Media Freedom.” The Washington Post. July 28, 2011. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ecuadors-autocrat-cracks-down-on-media-freedom/2011/07/27/gIQA5BRtfI_story.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzheads.

[12] “Ecuador: Freedom of the press.” Freedom House. 2015. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/ecuador.

[13] Pallares, Martin. “In Ecuador, Political Aftershocks.” The New York Times. April 21, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/opinion/in-ecuador-political-aftershocks.html?_r=0

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