In Ecuador the era of Rafael Correa is not over yet

Ecuadoreans had to wait almost four days to know they will have to go back to the polls on April 2 to determine who will occupy El Palacio de Carondelet, Ecuador’s government house, for the next four years. Along with the fact that February 19th’s general election didn’t come up with an outright winner, there were other unpredicted outcomes.

Against all projections Socialist Morales, who served as Correa’s vice-president between 2007 and 2013, did very well. He obtained 39.21 per cent of the votes just a few from the 40 needed to win in the first round. He is in a strong position for the April 2 run off. In order to cross the line he will have to negotiate and attract the social democracy of Paco Moncayo who came fourth in the February 19 election.

The closer contender is the right wing banker Guillermo Lasso — who assured that, if elected, Australian Julian Assange would be expelled from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has been since 2012 after president Correa granted him asylum. Guillermo Lasso obtained 28.42 per cent of the votes, so to win in the April 2 runoff; Lasso will have to knit together the highly fractured Ecuadorean right

While Morales fell short of winning the election in the first round there is a sense that the demise of the Ecuadorean twenty first century socialism, an economic and political model instigated by the outgoing president Rafael Correa, is still popular among the majority; and in this Andean country of 15 million the majority are poor.

Perhaps the big winner of the undecided first round was Correa himself. Against all predictions his ruling Alianza País obtained a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. It won 75 out of 137 seats out for grab. The election also gave the departing president one more triumph. His referendum –where Ecuadorians where asked to approve an ‘Ethical Pact’ preventing anybody with financial assets in tax heavens from holding public service roles — was solidly ratified. The referendum was called as a response to the Panama Paper’s scandal.

Correa, colloquially called ‘mashi’ (comrade in Quechua) won the 2006 election and took office in 2007. In an OPEP oil wealthy country, Correa inherited a neo-liberal driven financially bankrupt society. Equipped with of an authoritarian style of leadership — not always welcome — Correa managed to stabilise the economy and between the first year of his government and 2015 the GDP grew 3,9 per cent; 10 points above the Latin American average of 2,9.

Correa inherited a dysfunctional political system that witnessed between 1997 — when Ecuador returned to democracy — and 2007 eleven presidential elections. Transparency International described his political predecessors as the hemisphere’s worst kleptocracies. During this period — before Correa came to power- seven presidents were forced out of office after massive popular unrest. Even his most zealous opponents recognise that Correa gave this Andean country an acceptable level of political stability.

Correa is a close apprentice of Hugo Chavez’s progressive social policies. He strengthened the role of the state in just about all areas of Ecuadorean society, culture, economy, education, health and housing. During his ten years in government Correa applied a policy of ‘assistance and clientelism’ based on heavy state subsidies to programs of social benefit among the most disadvantaged sectors of the society.

Correa’s ‘citizen revolution’ and his philosophical view of what has been called the ‘socialism of good living’ have achieved the unachievable. Since he began wearing the presidential sash around 2 million have escaped poverty. In 2006 poverty hurt almost 17 per cent of the population a figure that now is around 8 per cent.

Correa became a key player in the so-called pink wave — a massive tide of progressive left-wing governments that moved throughout Latin America at the end of the 1990s. He was, along with the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, the builders of what became known as the Twenty First Socialism movement, a political, social and economic experiment underpinned by an anti US Latin American nationalism, progressive policies and regional integration.

However, not everything has been rosy for Correa. He faced a right wing coup d’état attempt in 2010 and in the last years of his government, anti-government protests became daily events. During his ten years in power he foolishly alienated — due to his aggressive extractive-based economy — important sectors of the left, the environment and indigenous movement. Correa also waged a pointless war against the commercial media, colourfully described by him as ‘ink’s sicarios.’

Leading up to the April 2 elections the gloves of the two contenders, Lenin Moreno and Guillermo Lasso, are off. Moreno — who moves around in a wheelchair after a gun robbery attempt left him paralysed — has promised to maintain Correa’s achievements and fix some of his blunders. Lasso, who enjoys unchallenged news coverage in the commercial news media, has promised to erase Correa from the recent history of Ecuador. In the meantime 12 million Ecuadorean voters — and one lonely exiled Australian –wait anxiously to know what lies ahead.