ANDRES MEJIA ACOSTA
Andres Mejia Acosta is a governance research fellow at the University of Sussex's Institute of Development Studies.
Special to Globe and Mail Update
Rafael Correa's victory in Sunday's Ecuadorean presidential election has tipped the balance on the number of Latin American countries that elected some form of left-leaning government in the past year.
Mr. Correa's win is explained by a strong anti-party discourse, reinforced by his promise to punish traditional politicians (his last name translates as "whip"), and his pledge to call a constitutional assembly (his campaign did not endorse congressional candidates).
His pledge to prioritize social investment, and his criticism of free-trade agreements with the United States helped defeat banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa in the runoff election. While his strong stand against the United States, supported by abundant oil revenues, invokes a reference to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Mr. Correa's political amateurism in Ecuador's turbulent political scene brings him closer to a Bolivian Evo Morales. Paradoxically, Mr. Correa's outsider politics, which launched him to the presidency, are now likely to conspire against cementing government coalitions, and putting an end to the perverse Ecuadorean practice, since 1997, of ousting presidents from office.
Mr. Correa's victory reflects a much anticipated, but long overdue, collapse of the traditional political parties in Ecuador. For at least two decades, party leaders from the right-leaning Social Christians or the left-leaning Social Democrats have had strategic control of government entities, including oversight bodies, electoral and constitutional authorities, and the judiciary.
Governance in Ecuador was sustained on fragile cross-party alliances, but political agreements within the ruling elite also help to explain the congressional dismissal of three presidents. In 2006, Ecuadorean voters punished these traditional practices by sending "outsider" presidential candidates into the runoff and giving outsider parties the majority of congressional seats.
Mr. Correa now faces an "outsider's dilemma." Like Mr. Chavez, his indifference to conventional politics and direct appeal to voters can be sustained with oil revenues. But he lacks enough political support from any organized group, such as the indigenous or the military, to bypass congressional parties and overhaul the constitution through a national assembly. Mr. Noboa's party holds the largest plurality of seats, and 80 per cent of subnational governments (mayors and provincial authorities) are still in the hands of traditional parties.
The alternative is to compromise and strike alliances with some traditional and other outsider parties that were criticized during the campaign.
Like Mr. Morales, a muddling-through strategy, aimed at surviving contentious politics and settling for a modest agenda of reforms cemented with oil wealth, may anger voters who expected radical and immediate changes. Ecuador confirms a pattern of polarized politics that is eroding weak Latin American democracies. Voters and politicians are polarized not just along the left-right spectrum but also along an outsider versus establishment dimension.
The collapse of established political parties, the magnetic appeal of outsider candidates and the pervasiveness of a populist, oil-rich rhetoric work against any genuine government attempt at redistribution of wealth. What is at stake in Ecuador is not only the possibility of a reversal to authoritarian or anarchic practices, such as those observed in Venezuela or Bolivia, but the collapse of state institutions altogether.
Without a domestic commitment to strengthen democratic governance, the erosion of the Ecuadorean state would affect the country's ability to pursue growth by promoting fair-trade agreements with neighbouring countries and regional bodies, protect citizens from organized crime and other security threats and, most important, achieve social policies that benefit the poor.
[ Ver: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/
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