Ecuador's Rafael Correa eyes third term as president

  • Published
Rafael Correa (C) speaks during the launch of his campaign for re-election in Quito on 4 January 2013Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Rafael Correa is the clear front-runner, according to the opinion polls

Ecuador's president seems likely to win a third term in office. What would re-electing Rafael Correa mean for the country?

Rafael Correa takes off his jacket and looks pensively at his desk as he changes into his cycling shorts and a sweatshirt bearing the Ecuadorean flag.

With a helmet under his arm, Ecuador's president walks out of Quito's presidential palace and hops on his bike. The camera follows him as he cycles on brand new roads and bridges across the country.

This is the beginning of the most-viewed campaign advertisement ahead of Ecuador's presidential election on 17 February.

No matter what they think of Mr Correa, friends and foes agree that the newly-paved roads showcased in the advertisement are a major legacy of his six years in power.

But what comes next for Ecuador if the president wins a third term in office, as the opinion polls seem to suggest?

Power politics

Mr Correa's political platform talks of a further deepening of the "Citizens' Revolution" that he promised voters when he was first elected in 2006.

Since coming to power, Mr Correa, a 49-year-old US-trained economist, has re-written the country's constitution, a move that allowed him to run for, and win, a new term in 2009.

He has also invested oil money into much-needed infrastructure and social programmes to redistribute wealth among the poor.

But some have questioned his style of governing.

Members of the opposition on both sides of the political spectrum say that if he were to win another term, Mr Correa would work on concentrating more power in his hands.

Alberto Acosta, one of the co-founders of the Alianza Pais governing party and now an opposition candidate, says that the president has betrayed his voters.

"I don't recognise the current Correa. He is a different person. He is not the friend I used to have, that I used to love like a brother," Mr Acosta said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Poverty has fallen and social spending risen during the Correa administration

"He controls everything. He is a sort of Sun King of the 21st Century," he said referring to France's King Louis XIV.

Judicial reform has filled the courts with pro-government judges, said Mr Acosta.

Sunday's elections will also choose 137 members of the legislature. Recent changes to the electoral law and voting districts could allow President Correa's party to win a majority, says political scientist Felipe Burbano.

Mr Correa has been criticised at home and abroad for his attitude towards political opponents and private media.

Amnesty International has accused the government of misusing a terrorism law approved during the 1970s military dictatorship to prosecute 10 left-wing activists who were arrested in March 2012 and are now being tried.

Human rights groups have also accused Mr Correa of restricting freedom of expression after he pursued, and won, several lawsuits against local private media.

President Correa says his fight is against entrenched media organisations that have tried to undermine his reforms.

Oil money

When it comes to the economy, Mr Correa is unlikely to change course.

Prior to his election, Ecuador had gone through seven presidents in 10 years and faced a huge financial crisis.

Image source, Creo
Image caption,
Guillermo Lasso is one of seven other candidates hoping to win over Ecuadoreans

"The country had always been in the hands of a small group of people," says Ralph Murphine, a political consultant who advised Mr Correa during the 2006 electoral campaign.

"Correa saw a great opportunity in this. This is the same idea that [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez came up with: doing something for the people."

Under President Correa, poverty rates have dropped significantly, to 27% in 2012 from 37% in 2007, according to the National Statistics Agency.

More schools and hospitals have been built, offering free education and healthcare.

"Correa's campaign started a year ago, or two years ago, when roads were paved, when people in need started receiving their monthly cash payment," says Mr Murphine.

To boost public investment, the government has relied heavily on increased revenues resulting from higher prices for the country's key oil exports.

But critics say the high levels of spending are not sustainable.

Despair and hope

After defaulting on foreign debt in 2008, there were few places where Ecuador could borrow money. One major source has been China, with which Ecuador has an outstanding debt of some $3.4bn (£2.1bn).

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
These voters are happy with the president they have

According to most pollsters, Mr Correa is on course to win re-election in the first round of voting, with more than 50% of the vote.

He faces seven opponents but opinion polls suggest his nearest rival, former banker Guillermo Lasso, only has some 20% support.

Lorena Morocho, a 33-year-old civil servant, says she has no doubts about choosing Mr Correa again.

"I vote for Rafael Correa because we need more time to complete the changes that the government has started," she said.

"Despair, this used to be the name associated with this country," says Mr Correa in the bicycle advertisement. "Until we took on the challenges of building the Ecuadorean dream."

For many like Ms Morocho, the Ecuadorean dream is becoming a reality.

"For years, this country went from government to government," she said.

"I don't like certain things he does, but he is a great leader. I am voting for a project of hope."