Ecuador: Presidential Elections Go to Runoff

Article excerpt

In Ecuador's Oct. 20 general elections, retired Col. Lucio Gutierrez (Partido Sociedad Patriotica, Pachakutik, and the Movimiento Popular Democratico, MPD) surprisingly came in first among the 11 presidential candidates. He will face banana magnate Alvaro Noboa (Partido Renovador Institucional Accion Nacional, PRIAN) in a runoff Nov. 24.

Ecuador, the world's largest banana exporter, is also rich in oil, but about 79% its 13.4 million people live in poverty. The next president will inherit a cash-strapped nation still recovering from a 1999 economic contraction of 7.3%, which led the government to default on part of its debt and dollarize the economy.

In the election, voters chose a president, vice president, 100 congressional deputies, city councilors, provincial leaders, and Andean Parliament representatives. The next president will succeed President Gustavo Noboa (no relation to Alvaro Noboa) on Jan. 15 for a four-year term.

The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) said Gutierrez took 20.43% of the vote, and Noboa took 17.37%. In third place was Leon Roldos of the Partido Socialista (PS), with 15.43%, and in fourth place was former President Rodrigo Borja (1988-1992) of the Izquierda Democratico (ID) with 14.1%. Final results in the congressional races are still not in.

After leading in the polls for months, Noboa's support dropped significantly just ahead of elections, and experts had predicted he would not make the runoff. Conversely, Borja was widely expected to emerge as one of the two finalists. Most speculation was on who would compete against Borja in the second round.

Turnout was 66%--extremely low in a country where voting is mandatory and absenteeism is punishable by fine. The turnout was also the lowest since democracy was restored in 1979. The vote, and the low turnout, showed a great deal of apathy by an electorate turned off by years of political turbulence and corruption, rising crime, inflation, and unemployment. But they were also a strong rejection of the traditional parties.

The results "illustrate that the Ecuadoran people will no longer tolerate the traditional parties...responsible for the corruption that has destroyed Ecuador," said union leader Fausto Dutan.

Gutierrez seen as untainted by politics as usual

Gutierrez, 44, joined indigenous leaders in storming Congress and ousting President Jamil Mahuad in January 2000 (see NotiSur, 20000-01-28). The following day, the junta that formed an interim government appointed then vice president Gustavo Noboa as head of state.

Gutierrez spent five months in prison following the coup and was freed through an amnesty by Congress. Along with about 20 other former military officers, he formed the Partido Sociedad Patriotica 21 de Enero (see NotiSur, 2000-06-09).

Gutierrez has degrees in civil engineering, administration, and physical education. During the campaign, he said the nation's enemies were poverty, illiteracy, and lack of competitiveness. He said he planned to encourage foreign investment by cracking down on the corruption that has scared away foreign investors.

"The perception of corruption is putting the brakes on foreign investment," he said. After the election, Gutierrez said it was significant that he and Noboa were not professional politicians.

"It is a sign that the Ecuadoran people are tired of the same old politicians," he said. "Who is responsible for the country that we have? We have one of the most corrupt, unjust countries, with the greatest inequalities and greatest migration in Latin America and the world. The moment has come to tell those politicians who do not understand the true concept of democracy: Enough."

Gutierrez said he was opposed to any involvement in Colombia and said US use of the military base in the port city of Manta in western Ecuador should only be for anti-drug trafficking operations. …