Category Archives: Ecuador

Ecuador – Term Limits Re-introduced, but Questions Remain over Moreno Presidency

In Ecuador President Lenin Moreno has won a resounding victory against his predecessor, Rafael Correa, in a wide-ranging plebiscite. Nevertheless, questions remain over the nature and direction of the new government. More specifically, while the approval of a proposal to re-introduce presidential term limits has been hailed in some circles as bucking the region’s “authoritarian trend,” the jury remains out on Ecuador’s future democratic path.

What can be said with certainty at this stage is that for the first time in over a decade, former president Rafael Correa has come out on the losing side in a public vote. As noted previously in this blog, opposition to the plebiscite consisted almost exclusively of Correa and his supporters, all of whom until very recently were members of the governing party, Alianza PAIS. Ranged against them were all of the major political and social actors in the country united – it appears – by a common desire to achieve the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuadorian politics.

Making predictions about Ecuadorian politics is extremely risky, given the partisan nature of opinion polling. However, as one commentator noted, “for once” the opinion polls correctly predicted the outcome of the plebiscite. The ‘Yes’ vote achieved an overall majority of almost 2:1 across the seven questions[i] put to the electorate, by margins ranging between 26 and 47 per cent, figures that also line up with Moreno’s overall approval ratings.

In spite of the size of the winning margin for the government – only on three previous occasions in the past forty years has a plebiscite been carried by a wider margin[ii] – it could not be said to have succeeded entirely in vanquishing Correa. The former president was quick to hail what he described as a “great triumph” for his newly formed Movement of the Citizens’ Revolution, claiming that “no other single movement obtained 36% of the vote”.

While this claim smacks somewhat of desperation – Ospina estimates the true size of Correa’s core constituency at closer to 22%[iii] – it contains enough truth to trouble Moreno. Taking into account that the president won around 39% of the votes in the first round of voting in last year’s presidential election – and that all opposition parties campaigned for a ‘Yes’ – one analyst estimates that Moreno succeeded in winning over a mere 8-11% of government supporters.

These figures raise the question of how Moreno will govern from this point onward, and in particular how he will consolidate his hold on power. In this context, the results of the plebiscite are extremely interesting.

Most international attention has focussed on the approval of Question 2, which effectively restores presidential term limits. This move is significant in terms of halting a drift toward indefinite re-election, particularly in light of recent events in Bolivia. It must be remembered, however, that the result returns Ecuador to the position set out in its 2008 Constitution, which allows for one instance of re-election to the same post. In effect the plebiscite has therefore repealed the amendment pushed through by Correa in 2015 via the National Assembly (not a referendum), a process which met with vigorous opposition in the streets.

As a result, the plebiscite has undone one of the most unpopular measures of the Correa government, such that many believe it was significant in persuading Correa not to run for election in 2017. The reform does not prevent Moreno from running for re-election as president, and even presents the possibility – however theoretical – of Correa being elected to a different post.

In fact, for many commentators the outcome of Question 3 of the plebiscite may prove to be more significant in terms of Ecuadorian democracy. That question relates to the Committee for Citizen Participation and Popular Control (CPCCS). This institution was designed to act as a form or popular or citizen check on government power, but in effect was used by Correa as one of the primary means to concentrate power.

As Ecuadorian sociologist Mario Unda notes, a list of the state functions over which the CPCCS had nominating power is illustrative, including the Attorney General, Ombudsman, Controller General, National Electoral Council and Judiciary Council. In the words of one commentator, under Correa the CPCCS became the “nucleus of state control”.

Little wonder then that many observers are waiting anxiously to see what Moreno does with this much-coveted institution. The proposal approved in the plebiscite is to re-structure the Committee, starting by replacing all of its Correa-appointed members. Moreno has pledged that in the future members will be elected by the public.

Nevertheless in the short term there will be a transition period in which Moreno will propose a shortlist of candidates to be approved by the legislature. In the view of Ospina, this gives Moreno “almost unlimited power” over the CPCCS[iv].

For a president with such a diminished core of support and relatively precarious hold on power, this process appears to present a “golden opportunity” to consolidate power. On the other hand, Moreno is coming under increasing pressure from other political players seeking to co-opt the CPCCS. What happens next will tell us a lot about Moreno and the true extent of change in Ecuador.


[i] The other questions related to: the removal of political rights for those guilty of corruption; the election of new members of the Committee for Citizen Participation and Popular Control; the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax Law; the extension of the ‘intangible zone’ in Yasuni National Park; restrictions on mining in protected areas; enhanced protections for children.

[ii] Pablo Ospina, 2018. Informe de Coyuntura: De la Consulta Popular as la edad de las presiones. CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Febrero. Available at:

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

Ecuador – Former President Correa Cries Coup as Current President Moreno Convokes Plebiscite on Re-Election Ban

The falling out between Rafael Correa and Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s past and current presidents respectively, has reached the level of a full-scale civil war that threatens to split the country’s governing party in a conflict over what many are calling the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuador.

The dominant characterisation of this schism has Moreno making a ‘shift to the right’ away from Correa’s ‘leftist’ policies. For example, in the view of the Financial Times Moreno has begun dismantling Correa’s “populist left-wing legacy” and forging relations with the business community. Meanwhile Correa accuses Moreno of “betrayal,” claiming that he is of the “centre-right” and has “no convictions”.

However, further analysis reveals that the issues at the heart of this extraordinary internecine conflict – which the BBC dubbed “Ecuador’s Game of Thrones” – relate to personality and political style rather than ideology. To be specific, they relate to Correa’s personality and political style.

As previously reported here, Lenin Moreno was elected in April of last year by the narrowest of margins, and under somewhat questionable conditions. Having served as Vice-President to Correa –who stepped down as President after a decade in power – many assumed that Moreno would be little more than a puppet. Some even compared the situation to that which existed in Russia between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin between 2008 and 2012.

No one is talking about that any more. Instead a far more likely scenario is the division of governing party Alianza PAIS into pro- and anti-Correa factions.

The situation has been brought to a head by a number of dramatic, headline-grabbing events. First came the preventative detention and prosecution of Moreno’s Vice-President (successor to Moreno as Correa’s Vice-President) Jorge Glas on corruption charges relating to the Odebrecht scandal. Last month Glas was jailed for six years. He was subsequently removed from the post and replaced by Maria Alejandra Vicuña. Impeachment proceedings have been instituted against Glas.

Moreno has also criticised the economic situation he inherited, enacted cuts to public spending, ordered an audit of the legality of Ecuador’s debt, and is seeking to bring its extension of asylum to Julian Assange to an end. Most significantly of all, Moreno has convoked a plebiscite for February 4th which proposes a range of reforms, among them a ban on presidential re-election[i]. This proposal would reverse the amendment abolishing term limits introduced by Correa in 2015, and bar the former president from running again.

Correa and his allies have reacted with increasing fury to these unfolding events, labelling Moreno a “traitor” and accusing him of destroying the legacy of the ‘Citizens’ Revolution’. Correa has characterised Moreno’s cuts as an “austerity package,” and criticised his meetings with business elites and the political right.

As previously reported here, in November pro-Correa factions moved to oust Moreno as president of Alianza PAIS. Moreno was able to have the decision overturned by the National Electoral Council (CNE), however, and the issue has been referred to the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) for a ruling. As a result, a split appears increasingly likely, with Correa now openly considering forming a rival party.

The most strident criticism of Moreno has focussed on the methods used to convoke the plebiscite. Rather than submit the proposed questions to the Constitutional Court for clarification, Moreno issued an executive decree instructing the CNE to proceed to put the selected questions to the electorate. Moreno justified the decree on procedural grounds, but pro-Correa figures have rejected that explanation. Former Chancellor Ricardo Patiño has labelled the plebiscite “unconstitutional,” while in an open letter of resignation, Ecuador’s UN Ambassador Guillaume Long denounced Moreno’s “dangerous authoritarianism” and “false ecumenism”.

Naturally the strongest criticism has come from Correa, who described the move as “treason” and an attempt at a “coup d’etat.” On January 5th Correa flew back to Ecuador from his home in Belgium to lead the ‘No’ campaign. As a result, Ecuador faces the paradoxical situation where, in the words of Pablo Ospina of the Simon Bolivar Andean University, “the only political movement opposed to the plebiscite is part of the party of the president who convoked it”[ii].

Yet Correa appears to be losing this game of political chess. In terms of support from members of the parliamentary party, Moreno has secured almost twice as many endorsements. Furthermore, according opinion polls Correa’s approval ratings – a consistent source of strength during his time as president – have plummeted to below 30% over the past year, during which time Moreno’s have risen to over 70%. Other polls point to public support for the ban on presidential re-election in the plebiscite.

A recent study of the decade-long Correa regime offers insight into why Moreno looks to be on a path to defeating his former leader[iii]. Utilising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” developed by Levitsky and Way[iv], Sanchez-Sibony concludes that Correa slanted the electoral playing field and utilised state control of the economy as a substitute for party organisation.

This analysis chimes with that of Ospina, who notes that Correa’s power was based on a combination of charisma and state control. Moreno may lack charisma, but it appears that in contemporary Ecuador, control of the state apparatus is more important. That Moreno appears to be successfully using Correa’s own tools against him is an irony that has not been lost on the former president’s critics.

In particular, Ospina points to Moreno’s strategic approach to opponents on both the left and the right, offering to each some but not all of what they demand[v]. For example, while Moreno did reduce public spending, the move was described as “moderate” by business associations who continue to push the president for deeper cuts. In Moreno’s cabinet, portfolios relating to the productive economy have gone to those with business links, while those with oversight of social policy have been entrusted to left-wing intellectuals.

This method can also be observed in the formation of the questions proposed for the plebiscite. To those on the right, Moreno has offered the possibility of eliminating Correa’s Capital Gains Tax, but has refused to amend the controversial Communications Law. For indigenous movements and environmentalists there is the prospect of restrictions on mining in protected areas, but not the total prohibition sought.

All of which brings the discussion back, inevitably, to Correa. Talk of Moreno ‘betraying’ the Citizens’ Revolution overlooks the fact that Correa himself had moved the project far from its origins during his ten-year reign. Numerous policy switches took place over that time[vi], including the signing of a free trade deal with the European Union and renewed borrowing from the IMF. In terms of the governing coalition, left-wing intellectuals and social movements had long-since been replaced by statist technocrats, ‘modern’ business people, and state contractors.

Several commentators have pointed out that Moreno is not fundamentally altering the economic model of the Correa years, which remains highly dependent on primary commodities, agribusiness, and borrowing. The real source of the conflict here is political.

It is questionable whether Moreno can hold together his ‘rainbow coalition’ of left and right in the long run. In constitution it is redolent of the first cabinet of former President Lucio Gutiérrez, which lasted all of six months before it fell apart under the weight of its internal contradictions[vii].

But for now Ecuador’s left and right are united behind Moreno’s attempt to achieve the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuadorian politics. Upon that point there appears to be widespread agreement, not only among social and political actors, but in the general public also. Correa may continue to dominate the headlines in Ecuador, but it looks increasingly as though his period of electoral dominance may be drawing to a close.


[i] The other questions include: The removal of political rights for those guilty of corruption; the election of new members of the Civic Participation Council; the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax Law; the extension of the ‘intangible zone’ in Yasuni National Park; restrictions on mining in protected areas; enhanced protections for children.

[ii] Pablo Ospina, 2017. Informe de Coyuntura: Traición e Infidelidad, los Dioses También Lloran. CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Diciembre. Available at:

[iii] Omar Sanchez-Sibony, 2017. Classifying Ecuador’s Regime under Correa: A Procedural Approach. Journal of Politics in Latin America, Vol. 9(3), pp. 121-140.

[iv] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

[v] Ospina, 2017.

[vi] Sanchez-Sibony, 2017.

[vii] César Montúfar, 2008. ‘El Populismo Intermitente de Lucio Gutiérrez,’ in Carlos de la Torre and Enrique Peruzzotti (eds.), El Retorno del Pueblo: Populismo y Nuevas Democracias en América Latina. Quito: FLACSO Ecuador.

Christopher A. Martínez – Democratic tradition and Lucio Gutiérrez’s ‘survival’ in office

This is a guest post by Christopher A. Martínez from Temuco Catholic University

In a previous post, I briefly described the main findings of a quantitative analysis that showed a significant (and consistent) effect of a country’s democratic tradition on presidential survival (Martínez 2017a). However, that study does not delve into how both variables are theoretically or empirically connected. I tackle this issue by analysing how Ecuador’s democratic tradition, along with other determinants of presidential survival, affected the chances of former President Lucio Gutiérrez staying in office (Martínez 2017b).

Ecuador has been historically known for its feeble democratic institutionalisation, undisciplined parties and a highly volatile party system. Zamosc (2007: 8) states that during the 1990s, even after 10 years of civilian government, Ecuadorean political actors remained weakly committed to abiding by democratic rules and that the electorate still lacked a well-developed ‘political culture.’ Bearing this in mind, I use the case of Gutiérrez to closely study how democratic tradition might have contributed to his political demise.

Democratic tradition: radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions and institutional equilibria

I argue that a country’s democratic tradition may have important effects on how political actors behave. Countries with stronger, longer democratic experiences are less likely to witness chief executives ousted from power. I posit that a country’s democratic tradition is a distant force, one that unfolds through three more proximate causes: level of radicalism, normative preferences for democratic institutions, and institutional equilibria (see Table I).

First, radicalism is observable when actors pursue political goals that dramatically deviate from the status quo. When these radical objectives cannot be attained through institutional mechanisms, actors may use non-institutional or even violent methods to accomplish them. These actions naturally spawn political friction and polarisation among those who oppose, which may increase political instability (Pérez-Liñán and Polga-Hecimovich 2017). Second, actors’ behaviour may also be driven by the values and attitudes they hold toward democracy. Weak normative preferences for democratic institutions would make actors more inclined to break the rules of the game if they interfere with their goals (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 2013). Thus, it may come as no surprise if actors resort to non-institutional or even illegal means to unseat a standing president. Finally, it might also be the case that actors do not intend to pursue radical goals and even value democratic institutions but still decide to break the rules and seek dramatic political changes. This may occur when negative institutional equilibria are in place in which ‘cheating’ is the equilibrium strategy (Greif and Kingston 2011; Calvert 1995), an arrangement that does not favour presidential survival.

Table I. Democratic tradition and its three proximate causes

I hypothesise that countries with shorter democratic traditions are more likely to witness political actors attempting to achieve rapid and dramatic changes to the status quo, displaying scant regard for democratic rules, and being prone to ‘cheat’ when other actors do so. These conditions tend to produce highly polarised and unstable scenarios which may pose insurmountable obstacles for presidents attempting to hold on to power.

The Gutiérrez case:

Following the steps of Abdalá Bucaram (August 1996 – February 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (Agustu 1998 – January 2000), Lucio Gutiérrez became the third consecutive elected Ecuadorian president to be unseated before completing his constitutional term. Still, the failed presidency of Gutiérrez is a curious case since he was ousted amid a period of mild economic bonanza. Shortly after taking office, President Gutiérrez betrayed his campaign promises and turned to the right. Following the left-leaning indigenous Pachakutik party’s walkout from the ruling coalition, Gutiérrez—with few parties willing to support him and after facing an ill-fated impeachment attempt—packed the Supreme Court with friendly judges so as to allow former President Abdalá Bucaram to return from exile as part of a deal struck with Bucaram’s party. In the following months, social discontent, which had been building up since Gutiérrez packed the Supreme Court in December 2004, led to widespread protests after Bucaram finally arrived in Ecuador in April 2005. Demonstrators took over the streets of Quito and broke into Congress, beleaguering the president who found himself politically isolated and struggling to hold on to power. After a couple of weeks of strong social mobilisations and lacking support from the military, the legislative opposition seized the opportunity and dismissed Gutiérrez after declaring his abandonment of office and appointed his vice-president in his place.

Ecuador’s democratic tradition and Gutiérrez’s ‘failure’:

Before and during the presidential crisis, Ecuador’s main political players exhibited low normative preferences for democratic rules. For instance, the temporary withdrawal of charges against Bucaram in exchange for political support and how Gutiérrez was irregularly voted out are clear examples of actors considering their goals to be far more important than the mechanisms to achieve them. Similarly, Gutiérrez blatantly intervening the Supreme Court in December 2004 represented a serious threat to the system of checks and balances, another sign of weak attitudes toward democracy and its institutions.

Still, a question worth asking is what would have happened if Gutiérrez had not packed the Supreme Court. He would have probably been out of office months earlier than he actually was. This means that ‘intervening’ in the Supreme Court was a very rational decision for the president and his political ‘survival.’ Analogously, had protestors not taken to the streets and broken into Congress, Gutiérrez would have stayed in office longer. Both moves cannot be considered fully democratic in the sense that they bypassed institutional mechanisms, at the very least, but they can still be regarded as rational.

Unreliable parties, erosion of legislative coalition and legislative shield

In addition to the effects of democratic tradition, Gutiérrez’s failure was also influenced by Ecuador’s undisciplined political parties. A remarkable sign of this was that apart from Gutiérrez’s own party, Partido Sociedad Patriótica (PSP), all of the largest parties were members of both the president’s coalition and the opposition at different moments during his administration.

Given that democratic tradition gradually changes over time, and undisciplined political parties are not new in Ecuador, why did presidential failures only occur after 1996? Mejía-Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich (2011) argue that before that time, presidents resorted to gastos reservados (discretionary budget allocations) which helped oil executive-opposition relations that reduced the likelihood of presidential failures. Nevertheless, a constitutional reform in 1996 took away the gastos reservados from the president; thus, negotiations between the ruling coalition and the opposition became increasingly difficult.

Final comments

The ouster of Lucio Gutiérrez was chiefly driven by institutional and political factors. Ecuador’s notoriously undisciplined parties, lack of incentives for executive-legislative collaboration and weak democratic tradition posed a challenging scenario for the president. Specifically, the behaviour of parties, protestors and Gutiérrez himself was influenced by the existence of a negative institutional equilibrium which rewarded cheating rather than complying with rules and a frail intrinsic commitment with democratic institutions, all of which heightened the risk of presidential failure.

Christopher A. Martínez holds a PhD in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago. He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science, Temuco Catholic University, Chile. His current research interests include the executive branch, government survival, institutional performance and democratic consolidation in Latin America. He can be reached at and @martineznourdin.

Ecuador – President Lenín Moreno ousted as head of his party

Last week, the President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, was removed as head of his own party, Alianza PAIS, following a meeting of the party leadership in Quito. Moreno, who only won the presidential election as the Alianza PAIS candidate last April, by narrowly defeating the right-leaning banker Guillermo Lasso by just over two percent of votes, was ostensibly removed as leader of the party because Moreno had been absent from a number of the party’s meetings over the course of the last three months. Most commentators however, believe that Moreno was removed as head of the party because of his decision to shift his stance away from that of the former president, Rafael Correa. Ricardo Patiño, a former Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense was chosen by the party’s national directorate to replace Moreno, while the party also issued an invitation to Correa to lead a restructuring of Alianza PAIS.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket, served as Correa’s vice-president between 2007 and 2013, before assuming a role as a UN Special Envoy for Disability and Accessibility. For most of his presidency, Rafael Correa managed to maintain very high approval ratings. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. However,  by the end of his presidency, falling oil prices had badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth had begun to grind to a standstill. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

It was widely perceived that Moreno who succeeded Correa as head of the party, following Correa’s decision not to run again in 2017 (but who remained as honorary life president of Alianza PAIS), would become a puppet of Correa as the power behind the throne, thereby facilitating Correa’s return in 2021. However, this was not to be the case. During the presidential campaign, Moreno began distancing himself from Correa; he indicated support for a more centrist economic policy and a re-evaluation of Ecuador’s relations with other countries in the region. In fact, after only three months in office, Moreno made a number of comments that were clearly a veiled criticism of President Nicolás Maduro and his increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela, which was widely seen as a repudiation of the former Boliviarian foreign policy of Correa, which had seen Ecuador provide the Maduro government with unwavering support.

Domestically, Moreno began a more conciliatory policy towards the former enemies of Correa, and reached out to opposition parties, the media and indigenous groups. Moreno introduced reforms to media freedom, allowed the liberalisation of digital financial transactions and even cut some public sector salaries. In August, he also suspended, and instigated proceedings against, Jorge Glas, his vice-president, and a former minister in Correa’s government, due to allegations of Glas’ involvement with the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Acrimony soon followed, and Correa and Moreno began a very public spat on Twitter and in the national media. Moreno’s removal is far from the end of the story. Moreno’s approval has jumped to nearly 77 per cent, according to a recent poll from September, and not all party deputies have accepted this decision; in fact, over  44 Alianza PAIS deputies have expressed unconditional support for Moreno. Expect things to only heat up.

Chris O’Connell – Presidential Election in Ecuador: Government Candidate Profits from Divisions

This is a guest post by Chris O’Connell, PhD candidate in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

The run-off vote for the presidency of Ecuador has been characterised by some as a crucial indicator of the political tendencies in Latin America. According to this logic, the victory of government candidate and former vice-president Lenin Moreno over banker Guillermo Lasso is proof of the continued relevance of the left in the region following a series of setbacks. Beyond this notional left/right divide, however, the results of the election highlight interesting dynamics and divisions in what is often referred to as a ‘weather-vane’ country.

Firstly, to the results. With all votes counted, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced victory for Moreno by a mere two per cent – a difference of just over two hundred thousand votes. In the previous blog I wrote that after the first round Lasso supporters made accusations of vote tampering and fraud. As Moreno’s vote approached the forty per cent mark which would have given him outright victory at that stage, members of CREO set up ‘electoral vigils’ outside CNE offices to pressure Moreno into agreeing to a run-off.

This time around, however, such tactics have proved less successful. Several thousand CREO supporters again congregated outside election centres in Quito and Guayaquil on the night of the election, with Lasso travelling between the country’s major cities to address the crowds. While there were some skirmishes between the protesters and police, overall the government appeared better prepared this time around. Nor were the crowds as large as previously, with spirits perhaps dampened by the results of pre-election polls.

As noted previously, a feature of this election has been the politicised nature of opinion polling. This trend appeared to have been overcome in the days before the run-off when polling firm Cedatos gave Moreno a four-point lead, having one month earlier reported a similar lead for Lasso. New controversy erupted over the results of exit polls, however, with Cedatos giving Lasso a six-point lead and prompting conservative newspaper ‘El Universo’ to briefly declare him president.

As a result of the huge gap between that projection and the official results, along with a mysterious eighteen minutes during which the CNE website went offline, Lasso has alleged fraud and stated that government forces had “crossed a line”. CREO supporters have attempted to sustain a popular campaign outside CNE, but participants have numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands.

Nonetheless, the government has agreed to a partial recount of the votes from five provinces, in response to a formal appeal by CREO. While this count is taking place, however, police raided the offices of Cedatos, apparently in response to allegations by Correa that the polling firm was contracted by CREO to sow confusion with its exit poll. The recount is not expected to yield any change to the results of an election that has been ratified by the United Nations and OAS.

Thus an underwhelming election cycle, dominated by negative tactics on both sides, and featuring two largely uninspiring candidates, appears likely to end with the status quo intact.

In fact an election that should have been about Ecuador’s future – this was the first campaign not to feature outgoing President Rafael Correa in fifteen years – ended up hinging to a significant extent on visions of the country’s past. More specifically, the campaign focussed attention on differing visions of the ‘citizens’ revolution’ led by Correa, and of the preceding ‘neoliberal’ period characterised by political and economic instability.

The Lasso campaign focussed on the economic and democratic problems allegedly wrought under Correa. In particular the candidate pointed to the country’s level of indebtedness, and to the concentration of power that he compared unfavourably to Venezuela. Members of CREO also alleged that the Moreno campaign made use of state funds and public media to gain an unfair advantage.

In turn Moreno’s team, with the support of Telesur, reminded voters of Lasso’s past involvement in the banking crisis of 1999, and in several administrations during the neoliberal era. Many of the attacks were led by Correa, who dedicated much of his ‘Enlace Ciudadano’ (‘Citizens’ Link’) television show to allegations that Lasso enriched himself from the crisis and transferred funds to offshore accounts.

Moreno’s victory was certainly due in part to the identity of his rival. While opinion polls in advance of the first round of voting had shown a generalised desire for change, Lasso’s professional and political past meant that he was unable to convincingly project that image. Instead he found himself compared unfavourably to other wealthy heads of state, including Mauricio Macri in Argentina, and even Donald Trump.

Nor should the track record of the government be discounted. While the opposition alleged that achievements in the provision of healthcare, education and (in particular) infrastructure have been funded by excessive borrowing, for the moment these benefits are there to be seen. Furthermore, the Correa government has achieved significant reductions in levels of poverty and inequality, even if similar figures in neighbouring Peru would suggest a considerable ‘growth effect’[i].

The results of this election also throw light on a number of interesting internal political dynamics.

In the first place, the results highlighted the re-establishment of regional cleavages within Ecuador’s polity. The divisions between the mountainous Sierra, Amazon and coastal regions have been largely replicated in voting preferences throughout the country’s history. This provincialism led to the prioritisation of local incentives and militated against projects with national scope[ii]. This dynamic was altered with the elections for the national constituent assembly in 2007, and continued through to Correa’s first-round victory in the 2013 presidential election[iii].

The results in 2017, in both first and second rounds, reveal a return to a regionalised voting pattern. First of all, while Moreno won the popular vote, he carried a minority of voting districts (twelve to Lasso’s fifteen)[iv]. Secondly, it is striking the extent to which the government’s main base of support has shifted since its emergence in 2006 from the Sierra to the coast. Particularly notable was Lasso’s triumph in the province of Pichincha, home to capital city Quito – once considered the government’s heartland. Also of interest was Moreno’s failure to win more than a single province in the Amazon region.

There are several possible explanations for these changes, but many of them are rooted not in the campaign, but in government policy over the past decade. For example, the Amazon region has been particularly impacted by the government’s expansion of extractive activities like oil and mining, many involving Chinese companies. These projects have led to a notable rise in socio-environmental conflicts, resulting in violence and repression[v].

Agrarian policies have been a particular source of disappointment for peasant farmers in the Sierra. Despite enshrining the concept of food sovereignty in the Constitution of 2008, the trajectory of agriculture under Correa has favoured agri-business interests and exporters that are concentrated almost exclusively in the coastal region[vi]. Also of note in the coastal region is the government’s adoption of local political ‘bosses’ to bring in votes.

Nevertheless, these dynamics cannot entirely account for Moreno’s victory in the populous province of Guayas. Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil is traditionally conservative, and is further home to all of the major right-wing opposition figures, including Lasso, first-round candidates Cynthia Viteri and ‘Dalo’ Bucaram, and Mayor Jaime Nebot. Lasso’s failure there is instead explained by fractures within the right: not one of those influential figures actively campaigned for his candidacy.

While divisions on the right helped Moreno, divisions on the left between and within social movements were also beneficial. While indigenous and social movements may have paved the way for Correa’s victory in 2006 and provided crucial support through the turbulent constituent assembly process, relations between them soured as the government sought to exercise its authority over these so-called ‘corporatist’ bodies[vii].

As with previous elections, the leadership of these movements were unable to properly define a position, with most simply refusing to support Moreno, thereby creating a tacit alliance with Lasso. Meanwhile the government cultivated relations with ‘second-tier’ local organisations, resulting in around 1,200 of them declaring support for the Moreno candidacy and isolating the leadership of once-powerful national movements.

Finally, the election in Ecuador raises questions about some core analytical concepts in Latin American politics. In the first place, while Moreno’s victory is widely described as a triumph of the ‘left,’ for many the Correa project is one of the modernisation of capitalism rather than socialism[viii]. Thus rather than a right/left divide, this election could more accurately be said to have pitted the neoliberal outlook of Lasso against a ‘post-neoliberal’ government that promotes a strong state that seeks to regulate the market and redistribute income[ix].

The Moreno candidacy also raises new questions about the contested concept of ‘populism’. Correa neatly fit the bill with his personal charisma, Manichaean discourse, and redistributive economic and social policies[x]. The mild-mannered and diffident Moreno is harder to classify in those terms, however. Thus discussion has turned to the ‘populist’ nature of his policy offering, evoking an economic rather than political or discursive definition[xi].

To conclude, Moreno has promised to be a president for “all Ecuadorians”, but a review of the electoral map would appear to make that aspiration unlikely and potentially undesirable. Ten years of the ‘citizens’ revolution’ has yielded a segmented country, with both winners and losers from government policy. If Moreno has aspirations of emulating Correa’s longevity, it would appear that division would serve him far better than unity.


[i] See figures from ECLAC in its annual Social Panorama of Latin America:

[ii] For more see: Simon Pachano, 2006. ‘Ecuador: The Provincialisation of Representation,’ in Scott Mainwaring, Ana Maria Bejarano, and Eduardo Pizarro Leongomez (eds.), The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

[iii] Correa won a plurality in 23 of the 24 voting districts in 2013, according to the election report by Jason Eichorst and John Polga-Hecimovich, 2014. Electoral Studies Vol. 34.

[iv] Three additional districts have been added since 2013 to allow for Ecuadorians abroad to vote.

[v] A conflict over a Chinese-backed mining project in the Amazon region of the Cordillera del Condor in late 2016 led to clashes with indigenous Shuar peoples that resulted in the death of a policeman, numerous arrests, and the militarisation of the region.

[vi] For more see: Patrick Clark, 2016. “Can the State Foster Food Sovereignty? Insights from the Case of Ecuador.” Journal of Agrarian Change Vol. 16(2); Isabella Giunta, 2014. “Food Sovereignty in Ecuador: Peasant Struggles and the Challenge of Institutionalisation.” Journal of Peasant Studies Vol. 41(6).

[vii] See: Carlos de la Torre, 2013. “El tecnopopulismo de Rafael Correa.” Latin American Research Review 48(1); Mark Becker, 2013. “The Stormy Relations between Rafael Correa and Social Movements in Ecuador.” Latin American Perspectives 40(3).

[viii] Former government minister turned opponent Alberto Acosta is a leading advocate of this analysis.

[ix] For more see: Franklin Ramirez Gallegos, 2015. “Political Change, State Autonomy, and Post-Neoliberalism in Ecuador, 2007-2012.” Latin American Perspectives.

[x] For more see: Carlos de la Torre and Cynthia J. Arnson (eds.), 2013. Latin American Populism in the Twenty-First Century. Johns Hopkins University Press; George Philip and Francisco Panizza, 2011. The Triumph of Politics. John Wiley & Sons; Kurt Weyland, 2013. “The Threat from the Populist Left.” Journal of Democracy Vol. 24(3);

[xi] See: Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards, 1991. The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail:

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.


[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

Chris O’Connell – Ecuador: Run-Off Election Announced Amid Scenes of Chaos

This is a guest post by Chris O’Connell, PhD candidate in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

Following one of the most low-key campaigns in recent memory, Ecuador’s presidential election exploded into the controversy, protest, and rumours of fraud and military intervention. Following three days of chaos and contradiction, the final outcome is a run-off vote between front-runners Lenin Moreno of the government party Alianza PAIS (AP), and Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing CREO movement. While this outcome was widely predicted, the manner in which it played out has been dramatic, and points to problems for the government.

While the lack of both accuracy and impartiality has been a prominent feature of opinion polling throughout the election campaign, all the major pollsters were agreed that Moreno would obtain the most votes in the first round. The inevitability of a Moreno ‘win’ was sealed when the two major right-wing opposition parties – CREO and the Social Christian Party (PSC) – failed to agree on a shared candidate. With the PSC’s Cynthia Viteri also on the ballot, the right-wing vote was split.

The important question was therefore not whether Moreno would win, but by how much. While no polls gave Moreno more than fifty per cent, under Ecuador’s electoral rules a run-off can be avoided if a candidate gains forty per cent and exceeds the vote share of the runner-up by at least ten per cent. This rule became the focus of a battle that was much more intense than the campaign which preceded it.

With ninety-eight per cent of votes counted, figures released by the National Electoral Council (CNE) give Lasso 28.4% of the votes, and Moreno 39.3%. With votes slow to come in from Ecuadorian emigrants abroad, along with some of the country’s remote districts, CNE head Juan Pablo Pozo had announced on Monday that it would take three days to finalise the count, and appealed for calm.

Those appeals fell on deaf ears, however. Instead supporters of Lasso, led by his running-mate Andres Paez, occupied the space outside the offices of the CNE on election night. There they remained, ensuring that all eyes were on an institution believed by the opposition to be under government control. Belatedly groups of AP supporters followed suit, leading to a tense stand-off on the streets of capital city Quito. Meanwhile similar ‘electoral vigils’ sprang up outside CNE branches in major cities like Guayaquil and Cuenca.

Lasso, a former banker who was part of the truncated government of Lucio Gutierrez, continued pressuring the CNE, talking openly of electoral fraud and demanding the finalisation of the count. Unsurprisingly in such a febrile atmosphere, rumours flew of dumped ballot boxes and even military intervention – forcing the military high command to issue a statement denying “false rumours” and pledging to protect the electoral process.

Moreno remained outwardly calm, eventually accepting the need for a run-off having initially celebrated an outright victory. Secretly, however, he and others at AP must be extremely frustrated at missing out on what could well be their best chance of success by less than one per cent of the vote. Rumours of the absolute dominance of AP over Ecuador’s institutions would appear to have been exaggerated.

The results must be considered in the light of the regional political situation. Following the changes of president in both Argentina and Brazil – albeit the latter by way of a dubious impeachment process – questions are being asked as whether the ‘pink tide’ that swept South America during the past decade is going out. These results – along with setbacks for left-wing governments in Venezuela and Bolivia – has seen increasing attention paid to the apparent return of the right in Latin America[i].

In that context, the Ecuadorian elections represent the latest test of the durability of the left in South America. In particular, the 2017 presidential vote is viewed as an indicator of the sustainability of the so-called ‘Citizens’ Revolution’ driven by AP and its leader, President Rafael Correa, who is stepping down after a decade in office. This year’s slate of candidates is the first to not feature Correa in fifteen years.

As David Doyle has written about previously in this blog, AP used its super-majority in the national assembly to amend the constitution to allow for unlimited re-election. Nevertheless, in the face of opinion polls indicating overwhelming public opposition and a faltering economy, Correa opted against putting himself forward as a candidate.

Instead the AP candidate would be Lenin Moreno, Correa’s vice-president during his first six years in power. According to some accounts Correa’s preferred candidate was current vice-president Jorge Glas, but polling gave him little chance of victory. The mantle thus fell to Moreno, with Glas reprising his role as running-mate. Moreno is a popular if diffident figure who is most renowned for his work as a disability campaigner, having been confined to a wheelchair since being shot in an attempted robbery.

Nevertheless, the problems facing the governing party were not limited to the absence of Correa from the ballot paper. The most commonly cited issues are the slowdown in the economy since oil prices began to fall in 2014, and a series of corruption controversies. While not confined to the ruling party, these allegations have served to undermine the public legitimacy that has provided the foundations for its decade-long rule.

In spite of the promise of Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution to institute a regime of ‘Sumak kawsay’ or ‘good living’, the economy remains heavily dependent on crude exports. Further adding to Ecuador’s economic difficulties has been the strengthening of the US dollar[ii], which has pushed up the price of Ecuador’s exports. In spite of these serious drawbacks the economy has contracted but has not entered recession, and doomsday scenarios have thus far failed to materialise.

For some this is evidence of the success of the economic management of governing party. It is certainly the case the under Correa has collected more taxes than previous regimes. However many suspect that the government’s high levels of public spending are supported mainly by large-scale borrowing from China. In return for credit, it is alleged that the government has given China first option on its crude output for years to come. The government’s cancellation in 2013 of its innovative Yasuni-ITT initiative may have been designed to placate Chinese interests, but the move cost AP in terms of popularity among the urban middle-classes[iii].

Oil and public spending have also been at the centre of a series of corruption scandals that have weakened the government further. The massive Odebrecht bribery scandal has implicated legions of politicians across the region. In the case of Ecuador, the scandal has lent credence to widely held suspicions about overpayments on public infrastructure contracts – suspicions that are only strengthened by government reticence to investigate the matter.

Furthermore, a corruption case involving state oil company Petroecuador has tarnished political actors from across the ideological spectrum. Specific allegations made by former Petroecuador head Carlos Pareja against Glas, however, have been particularly damaging to the government.

In what could be considered a classic AP move, the government sought to outflank its opponents on this very issue by including a referendum on tax havens on the ballot paper. The referendum proposed a prohibition on public servants holding assets or capital in tax havens. The measure forced opponents to take a position on the issue[iv], while simultaneously presenting the government as progressive. The effect of such moves has diminished over time, however, as highlighted by the fact that the proposal was carried by an underwhelming fifty-five per cent.

Perhaps of most concern to AP amid the fallout from this election is the way in which its right-wing opponents have taken effective control of street politics. When Correa rose to power ten years ago, it was on the back of a sustained period of mobilisation by social actors. Correa in turn harnessed this power to force through a plebiscite on the convening of a constituent assembly against fierce opposition[v].

Following the ratification of a new constitution in 2008, however, the government’s attitude to mobilisation altered dramatically. As a number of scholars have noted, the government introduced a series of measures designed to regulate civil society and to criminalise protest[vi]. The strategy seemed to revolve around controlling the social movements through state power while dominating the right-wing opposition electorally.

The first signs that this strategy might be failing came in July 2015, when government proposals to introduce a capital gains tax encountered strident opposition. The protests outside the AP headquarters by members of the middle and upper-middle classes made the government appear vulnerable for the first time. The proposed measures were withdrawn, but it would appear that AP learned little from the incident.

The protest at the CNE – which included a mix of businesspeople linked to chambers of commerce, PSC and CREO supporters, and members of the middle class – is the kind of manoeuvre traditionally associated with social movements and the left. As Ecuadorian sociologist Carlos de la Torre has outlined, the occupation of public spaces has long been fundamental to ‘populist’ visions of democracy in Ecuador[vii]. To see that tactic utilised by the right so effectively that Correa was reduced to tweeting impotently about electoral fraud indicates a tidal shift in Ecuadorian politics.

That is not to say that AP is spent as a political force in Ecuador, far from it. Along with Moreno’s ‘victory’, AP is also projected to hold a majority in the national assembly. But this is a party that has governed without political compromise, and in doing so has made few friends. The right has already coalesced around Lasso, with the PSC putting aside misgivings to pledge its support to the former banker. This combined vote share totals roughly forty-six per cent.

Under normal circumstances Moreno would command a similar vote share by harnessing the seven per cent that went to Democratic Left candidate Paco Moncayo. But these are not normal circumstances, and the strong ‘anti-correismo’ current is not confined to the right. Moncayo has thus far refused to endorse either candidate, while members of the traditionally leftist Pachakutik party have publicly refused to back Moreno. Under such circumstances, AP faces a stiff challenge to win the additional support it requires from an electorate in which opinion polls indicate that seventy per cent of voters favour “significant change”.


[i] For more on this, see: Juan Pablo Luna and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (eds.), 2014. The Resilience of the Latin American Right. John Hopkins University Press; Barry Cannon, 2016. The Right in Latin America, Routledge.

[ii] Following a huge financial crisis in 1999, Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its currency in 2000.

[iii] Catherine Conaghan, 2016. “Ecuador under Correa,” Journal of Democracy Vol. 27(3).

[iv] Lasso, a former banker, campaigned against the measure on grounds of personal freedom.

[v] See Eduardo Silva, Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

[vi] For more, see: Carlos de la Torre and Andrés Ortiz Lemos, 2015. “Populist Polarisation and the Slow Death of Democracy in Ecuador.” Democratization Vol. 23(2); Catherine Conaghan, 2015. “Surveil and Sanction: The Return of the State and Societal Regulation in Ecuador.” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies Vol. 98.

[vii] Carlos de la Torre, 2015. De Velasco a Correa: Insurrecciones, populismos y elecciones en Ecuador, 1944-2013. Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar/Corporación Editora Nacional.

Ecuador – Ruling Coalition announces Candidate for February Election

At a convention over the weekend, Ecuador’s left-leaning ruling coalition, Alianza PAIS, announced that it had chosen Lenín Moreno as its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in February 2017. Moreno served as the vice-president of the current Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, from 2007 until 2013, before being appointed as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. Moreno’s running mate for this election will be the current vice-president, Jorge Glas.

This election can be seen as a good litmus test of the sustainability of Latin America’s turn to left-leaning political parties and presidents that began with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. Given the income structure of the region, once left-leaning parties were able to institutionalise after the transition to democracy, it was no great surprise that they were able to successfully contest elections in the face of poor growth under right-leaning incumbents during the 1990s.[1] Recently however, poor growth following the collapse of the early 2000s commodity boom, and the fall in crude oil prices, has placed serious pressure on left-leaning incumbents; Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from power in Brazil; as was Fernando Lugo in Paraguay; the right-leaning Mauricio Macri won the presidency in Argentina; and the beleaguered left-wing government of Nicolás Maduro is looking increasingly fragile as the opposition gains strength. Suddenly, the right appears to be on the ascendency across the region.[2]

Similar dynamics can be observed in Ecuador. Falling oil prices have badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth has virtually ground to a standstill. The current left-leaning incumbent of Alianza PAIS, Rafael Correa, managed to maintain very high approval ratings through much of his presidency. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket will face a splintered opposition on the right. Although the Ecuadorian electorate appear eager for change, the fact that the right is split between Guillermo Lasso of Creando Oportunidades (CREO) and Cynthia Viteri of the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC), will favour Moreno providing the election does not go to a run-off, which would allow the right to coalesce around one candidate.

It remains to be seen whether bad economic times will claim the scalp of another left-leaning incumbent.

[1] See Steven Levitsky and Kenneth Roberts (eds.) 2011. The Resurgence of the Latin American Left. John Hopkins University Press.

[2] See the companion book to the one above: Juan Pablo Luna and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (eds.) 2014. The Resilience of the Latin American Right. John Hopkins University Press.

Ecuador – President Correa Fires Military High Command

Last week, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, fired all of Ecuador’s military high command for their refusal to pay back to the government money that the army allegedly owes. President Correa announced via Twitter that he had dismissed the army high command after they refused to refund US$41 million to the Ministry of the Environment. The former army high commander, Luis Anibal Garzon, refuted Correa’s claims and argued that the government was depriving the military of much needed funds, which it needed to cover basic pensions.

The dispute stems from the sale of 220 hectares of land in Guayaquil. The land, which was owned by the Instituto de Seguridad Social de las Fuerzas Armadas del Ecuador (ISSFA), the army social security and pension fund, was sold to the government in 2010 and used to create Guayaquil Park. Last July, the Pope, during his visit to Latin America, said mass in this park. At the time, the Ministry of the Environment paid over US$48 million for the land, even though the municipal council had apparently valued the land at only US$7.3 million. The Attorney General conducted an investigation last November, which concluded that the government had drastically overpaid ISSFA. Based on this investigation, the Correa administration then ordered the Ministry of Finance to recoup the US$41 million difference for the Ministry of the Environment.

The high command of the army refused to acquiesce to this request and instead publicly accused Correa of undermining the ability of the army to secure and pay for its pensions.

In response, Correa then dismissed the entire high command for disobedience.

Luis Anibal Garzon, chief of command of the armed forces was replaced by Oswaldo Fabián Zambrano Cueva. The new head of the navy is Angel Isaac Sarzosa Aguirre; the head of the air force, Cesar Abdon Merizalde Pavon; and head of the army, Luis Miguel Angel Castro Ayala.

Some have argued that Correa’s actions are part of a larger populist, even electoral authoritarian strategy, of centralizing power, which has seen him reform the constitution, aggressively tackle political opponents in civil society, and change term limits. [1] In response, groups of protestors took to the streets of Quito chanting “Correa Out.” These protests were marked by counter-protests in support of the Correa administration, where Correa lashed out at right-wing opponents and the media for tarnishing his regime and policies.

Worryingly, this incident does appear to indicate a step up in political polarization among opposition groups and the government. This is a trend that is reflected in other parts of the Andes. Political polarization is a recurrent feature of Bolivian politics, and polarization between the opposition and the government in Venezuela, has severely undermined the political stability of the country.

[1] For example, see the special issue on Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift in the Journal of Democracy (2013, Vol. 24, Issue 3).

Rut Diamint and Laura Tedesco – Rethinking political leadership in Latin America

This is a guest post by Rut Diamint (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Laura Tedesco (Saint Louis University/Madrid Campus) based on their newly published book, Latin America´s Leaders, available here.

In writing Latin America´s Leaders, we had four objectives: to review the main bibliography on political leadership; to examine the domestic political conditions that impact on the emergence of different types of leaders; to offer a qualitative analysis of interviews with political leaders; and to devise a typology of democratic leaders.

Our research[i] was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders[ii]. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Is there any relationship between the features of political party systems and the leaders’ democratic quality? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate strong leaders?

We looked at Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. While all these countries suffered similar political and economic crises during the 2000s, the outcomes were different: five presidents were expelled in Argentina, three in Ecuador, one in Venezuela and none in Uruguay and Colombia. In Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the crises brought about the fragmentation or collapse of the party system and the emergence of strong leaders. Conversely, in Uruguay the 2002 crisis neither affected the political party system nor became a major systemic crisis; the traditional political parties lost the elections and the Frente Amplio won the presidency for the first time since its creation in 1971. In Colombia, political parties underwent an important transformation following the political reforms in 1991 and the 2003, and political stability with a high degree of institutionalization allowed a strong leader in the form of Álvaro Uribe to come to power – yet these features also helped to control his political ambitions.

We conducted 285 interviews with former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, MPs, mayors and party leaders. The aim of the interviews was to learn how leaders interpret democratic quality and how far they perceive themselves as the architects of democracy.

Our interviewees talked about powerful presidents who concentrate power and, in many cases, usurp power from other institutions. Many presidents in Latin America dis-empower institutions to empower themselves.

The qualitative analysis of the interviews showed two different groups: in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the analysis of Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez dominated the interviews while in Uruguay and Colombia our respondents examined political leadership together with the role of political parties, state institutions and historical processes.

One of our conclusions is that the degree of institutionalization of the political party system influences the type of leader that emerges in a given country.[iii] We developed a typology based on three elements: the political context, the ability of the leader to lead and the impact of the leader on the quality of democracy. Cutting across these elements are three dimensions of leadership: the relationship between the leader and the rule of law; the leader’s efforts to achieve consensus or in contrast to provoke polarization; and the leader’s methods to increase power. Our typology highlights leaders’ democratic quality by looking at their attitude to rules (obey, challenge or manipulate) to opposition (polarize, tolerate or build consensus) and to power (share, concentrate or usurp).

Democratic-enhancer Ambivalent Democrat Soft Power Usurper Power Usurper
Rule developer Rule-Obedient Rule-Challenger Rule-Manipulator
Bridge-Builder Receptive Soft Polarizer Polarizer
Respectul Rule-Challenger Power Builder Power Maximizer

Democratic-enhancers include leaders who push for the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions, accept the limits on power imposed by state institutions, respect and promote democratic rights and civil liberties, and leave their posts on time. This type of leader invariably belongs to a political party in which he has developed his career.

The ambivalent democrat respects people’s rights, works in a cooperative manner but seeks to accumulate personal power. Unlike the democratic-enhancer they respect but do not strengthen democratic institutions. The ambivalent democrat can actually end up weakening democracy in his bid to increase his own personal power.

The soft power usurper navigates between challenging and accepting the rule of law and state institutions. The historical context becomes crucial since it can either facilitate or block the leader´s ability to gain autonomy. In crises, this type of politician can take advantage to reduce other institutions’ maneuverability. However, at some point, a brake is applied by his party, the judicial, the legislative power or even societal pressure. The soft power usurper then retreats in the hope of more favorable conditions arising that will enable him to fit the political game to his own personal or collective aims.

Power-usurpers accumulate power by absorbing it from other state institutions, either by minimizing the role of the legislature and/or by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Power-usurpers are democratic leaders who have been elected in free elections. However, some end up manipulating constitutional or electoral instruments to increase personal power, thus worsening the quality of democracy. Power-usurpers believe that they are the only legitimate representatives of their people. Politics becomes embedded in them. They generally aspire to perpetuate themselves in power.

In Uruguay most leaders are democratic enhancers. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was a mix of ambivalent democrat and soft power usurper, while Juan Manuel Santos is a democracy-enhancer. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were soft power usurpers. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa combines elements of a power usurper with a soft power usurper. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was the archetype of a power usurper: he challenged the rules, polarized society and maximized his power.

This typology distinguishes four ideal types that measure leaders’ degree of democraticness. It offers a framework for how leaders´ political influence and democratic quality can be studied in other parts of the world. And it can serve as an instrument to promote democratic-enhancers and avoid the rise of power usurpers.


[i] The research was done between 2009 and 2012 and was financed by Foundation Open Society Institute, Washington DC.

[ii] The quality of democracy has been debated in Guillermo O´Donnell, Jorge Vargas Cullell and Osvaldo Iazzetta (2004) The quality of democracy. Theory and applications (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) and Pippa Norris (2011) Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revisited (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

[iii] The degree of institutionalization of political parties has been analyzed by Manuel Alcántara (2004) ¿Instituciones o máquinas ideológicas? Origen, programa y organización de los partidos latinoamericanos (Barcelona: Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona); María Matilde Ollier María Matilde (2008) “La institucionalización democrática en el callejón: la inestabilidad presidencial argentina (1999-2003)”, América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103 and Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully (eds.) (1995) Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Rut Diamint is professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Universidad Torcuato di Tella, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Club de Madrid and the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. She has been visiting professor at Columbia University, and has received scholarships from Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the PIF programme of the Canadian government, the Tinker Foundation, the UN Commission for Peace Studies and the US Studies Center for US–Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.

Laura Tedesco is associate professor of political science at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, and at Instituto de Empresa, Madrid. She has received scholarships from the British Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and CONICET (Argentina) and grants from the British Academy and the Open Society Institute. She has taught at Universidad de Buenos Aires, FLACSO, the University of Warwick and the University of East Anglia. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and worked as an analyst for FRIDE, Spain.