Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ecuador's Vote Promises Reform

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ecuador's Vote Promises Reform

Article excerpt

NEITHER of two center-right candidates running neck and neck in Ecuador's presidential race is likely to emerge with the majority of votes required for victory in this month's first round of balloting, making a July runoff vote likely. But the country is bound to undergo profound economic change no matter which candidate wins.

Both Sixto Duran of the Republican Unity party and Jaime Nebot of the Social Christian Party have pledged to move rapidly to join the ranks of Latin American leaders opening their countries' protected economies.

The two leading candidates pledge to encourage foreign investment by reducing trade barriers and state subsidies while seeking to expand exports. The changes will be directed by a modernized state trimmed of excess bureaucracy, according to the candidates' economic plans.

"There will undoubtedly be an economic opening under the next administration," says Santiago Jervis, editor of Weekly Opinion, a Quito political magazine .

These economic plans, while similar to those installed years ago in other Latin American nations, represent radical departures from the static and some say stagnating policies of current President Rodrigo Borja Cevallos.

President Borja, a member of the Democratic Left party, has adamantly defended a significant state role in managing the economy. Last month, for instance, he called the wave of privatization sweeping Latin America a misbegotten, passing fad. He pointed to Ecuador's state phone company, saying its privatization would lead to poorer rural service. Four precious years lost

Some analysts blame the president's unwillingness to rethink his positions for the economy's inability to keep up with population growth of about 2.6 percent.

"Borja considers himself a liberal, but he is conservative in the sense that he has not promoted change," Jervis says. "We've lost four precious years under him."

Jervis and others note that while the petroleum sector accounts for more than 40 percent of Ecuador's gross national product, foreign investment has fallen. At least six companies recently decided to pull out, an exodus blamed by many analysts on the state oil company, Petroecuador. Foreign firms no longer receive concessions but work under contract from Petroecuador. …

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