Rafael Correa is one of Latin America’s most popular presidents. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory last May, and his approval rating has remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Very few presidents in any country in the world can boast such popular support. The economy is expected to grow by 4.5 to 5 per cent this year and Correa, after defaulting on US$3.2 billion in foreign debt before buying 93 per cent of the debt back at 35 cents on the dollar, has announced his intention to return to international capital markets to raise US$700 million. Indeed, all seems to be going swimmingly for Rafael Correa.
So it is perhaps only slightly surprising that Correa, two weeks ago on Pulso Político on TC Televisón, indicated support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Currently in Ecuador, the president is allowed to hold office for three consecutive terms. Indeed, Correa already oversaw a constitutional reform to allow him run for this third consecutive term. This proposed constitutional amendment would allow Correa to run again in 2017.
According to Correa, amending the constitution would prevent the right, in collusion with the media, from halting the ‘historic Citizen’s Revolution’ his government is overseeing. On Wednesday, when speaking to the Harvard Kennedy School, in response to a question from the audience, Correa somewhat ambiguously stated: ‘In 2017, I want to retire from the presidency and from politics, but it’s not always possible to do what (you) want.’ It was only in January that Correa, in an interview with El Telégrafo, suggested that he had no intention of running again in 2017.
Correa’s apparent about turn is better understood in the wider regional context. Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election. Beginning with Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori however, Latin American presidents have sought to alter their constitutions with alarming frequency in order to allow for their re-election. Only last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua to join Venezuela in allowing indefinite presidential election. Currently, only five Latin America countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay, now prohibit presidential reelection.
Given that both the legislative assembly and Correa’s party, Alianza PAIS, have already begun discussing the practicalities of such a constitutional reform, the wind seems to be blowing in Correa’s direction. Once again.