Skidmore College

Lenin Moreno’s Lack of Charisma and Press Repair Will Slow Ecuador’s Democratic Backslide by Jake Hempel @ Skidmore College

Although it is somewhat apparent from an institutional and political standpoint that Ecuador’s new leader would not suggest an improvement in the democratic quality of the nation, there are signs that point in a positive direction. The election of Lenin Moreno following the end of presidential eligibility of Rafael Correa is the start of a new written chapter for Ecuador. Although the election was in 2017, that specific moment influences the current events of the country today.

Correa’s presidency was riddled with democratic defects, many of which corrupted the Ecuadorian government and the media. Perhaps the most hostile engagement that affected how Ecuador is rated as a democracy is the destruction of the relationship between the press and the government. Correa’s critics began to aggressively question his ways and political legitimacy once he was a few years into his presidency. Correa is a member of Alianza PAIS, a political party in Ecuador that preaches populist promises such as economic equality and opportunity for the poor. Ironically, Correa’s presidency was highly viewed in 2008 as a democratic turnaround following many active volcanoes of governments. Military coups characterized a 1970s phase of Ecuadorian politics, following the trend of other South American countries such as Argentina and Chile. Following the coups, there was a span of ten years in Ecuador where eight different presidents ruled the nation. These political monstrosities were enough to showcase that any revolutionary or charismatic leader willing to endure the constraints of a twentieth rewriting of the constitution would be a small step in the country’s efforts for democracy. As previously stated, a rewritten constitution in 2008 paved the way for Rafael Correa to take control of the country. The constitution was drafted by the National Assembly, so there were naturally going to be some partisan points to be considered. At this time, Alianza PAIS had a soft majority in the legislature of about 57%, which allowed them to fix the constitution in a way that would benefit the party going forward. Following Correa’s election, which is another political controversy, he was able to accelerate many of Alianza’s programs to maximum scale in order to both earn him reelection, as well as start a political revolution.

Correa’s election is a controversy mainly due to the means by which it occurred. Ecuador’s election laws consider two rounds of elections. Following the preliminary round, unless there is a clear 51% majority vote for one from the pool of candidates, there is a runoff election to determine the favorite of the minority parties. Correa was the frontrunner after the first round, but had to win the votes of opposing parties. Correa was able to win the second round of voting, which would suggest that his ideals were popular from the start, and eventually validated. Current President Moreno operates under the same idea.

Moreno’s election is going to lead to a new democratic image of Ecuador that outsiders will soon see. Over the course of Correa’s eight years at the helm, the relationship between the press and the government deteriorated significantly. Some of Correa’s policy implementations definitely did not help. First, CONARTEL, Ecuador’s television broadcast administrative committee mandated that there must be an hour of government broadcasting on television every day. This accomplished two things: political brainwashing, which is not far from overstepping what Correa was doing, and free government media. These broadcasts were free of charge to the government, and in turn helped the government become the nation’s largest advertiser. Journalists who defamed Correa had their work shut down, while defamation penalties increased dramatically. Executive intervention with the free media is perhaps the most disconnecting action a government could accomplish in order to isolate the public from involvement and information. Correa’s administration also fixed coverage of a police uprising, originally dubbed a mini-coup, which had opposition parties and the public fuming. Restriction of the press caused Freedom House’s democratic rating of Ecuador to drop significantly, and showed that it was indeed the main reason for backsliding in the country. In a world where social media plays such a large role in politics and everyday life, press restriction is both a political and intrinsic social travesty.

The election of Moreno has shown that the relationship between the press and the government is going to improve. Since his election, Moreno has already eliminated most of the previously stated provisions to restricting the press and penalties against those who defame the administration. Accurate media and free media will eventually create more political competition and give Alianza PAIS a run for their money in the political realm of Ecuador. Moreno’s lack of charisma also shows that any potential populist initiation would be tarnished immediately. It will be interesting to see how the rest of Moreno’s term plays out. If he is reelected, it proves that the backsliding in the nation will have slowed significantly, and that Ecuador will be back on the right track. It is not the actual events in Ecuador that affect the backsliding, it is the means by which they occur. If a biased constitution can be overpowered by a stronger political culture, Freedom House will have to rewrite its’ statistics on the democracy of Ecuador.

1 Comment

  1. Jane Huber

    April 19, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    I find this analysis of Ecuadorian presidents of the last 10 years to be really interesting because it is a major shift from traditional South American trends. As someone who has been studying Argentina, I think it is interesting to note that both places to be experiencing similar shits away from populism. It makes me wonder if these trends might start to extend to other South American countries. Military coups and coup attempts have been a long history in South American politics so to see multiple countries shifting away from these techniques and populist leaders is hopeful. I also think the analysis of the media in Ecuador is super important to understanding their trajectory. Had Moreno not re-implemented media independence, the predictions for his presidency might be incredibly different. I really like that you used this blog post to focus a specific factor related to erosion because using media allows me to clearly understand a timeline of democracy in Ecuador (free media=more independent). Overall, I think this is a strong blog post that provides a good idea of where Ecuadorian democracy is heading. I know in Argentina their new president is almost an experiment to see if populism has passed its prime and so I wonder if Moreno is almost like the test in Ecuador. It will be interesting to keep following the countries and see how these presidents work out. It is great to see South American trends changing and hopefully Ecuador can be an example for other countries in overcoming populist leaders.

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