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.