Rafael Correa won his third election to Ecuador's presidency on February 17, 2013.
Correa's 56.9 percent plurality this time and his 51.7 percent victory in 2009 were each high enough to rule out second-round voting. He is the first president in Ecuadorian history to win two consecutive first round victories, and the only president in three decades to have been re-elected decisively.
At least 51 percent of candidates of Correa's Alianza Pais political party gained National Assembly seats. Never before in Ecuadorian history has a single party held a legislative majority. Voting results for provincial assemblies were incomplete two days after the elections.
The "Pais" in the party's name - "country" in English - signifies "Patria Altiva I Soberana," or in English, "Proud and Sovereign Fatherland." Backers of the socialist movement led by Correa speak of a "Citizen's Revolution." The Quechua indigenous expression "Sumak Kawsay" signifies safe and sound equilibrium with nature and communal life. Translated into "Living Well," it became the movement's slogan.
Correa found backing across Ecuador's class spectrum, with some local manufacturers grateful, for example, for policies limiting imports of some foreign goods. The economy has advanced 5.2 percent annually since 2007. Inflation has averaged 4.8 percent.
The President's victory stemmed overwhelmingly from popular mobilization built upon five years of social gains for the country's majority. The poverty rate dropped from 38 to 29 percent and unemployment, from nine to four percent. The minimum salary was increased. Health and education services; transportation services; and infrastructure, especially roads, bridges, and airports, were improved. The government recently hiked "development bonds," payments to families and handicapped persons, from $35 to $50 per month. They were in effect when Correa became president.
Augmented funding for social services is the result of increased revenues the government negotiated with multinational oil producers. Stopping payment on one third of Ecuador's foreign debt in 2008 on the presumption it was illegal also opened up resources for social spending.
One observer attributes Correa's electoral achievement to late effects of women and the illiterate having gained the vote decades ago, and to voting rights extended under the new Constitution to youth, prisoners, immigrants, and Ecuadorians living abroad, of whom 80 percent voted for the President. In the campaign, Alianza País took mass meetings and rallies into the streets and to rural areas and used media and social networks to good effect.
Opposition forces critiqued Correa's supposedly arrogant style of exercising power and government repression of hostile media. Business interests pointed to high levels of public debt and low credit ratings with international lenders. Friend and foe alike warn of persisting problems, among them indigenous resistance to promotion of extractive industries, land inequalities, fragile water resources, monopoly domination of the economy, corruption, and Julian Assange, who found asylum in Ecuador's London embassy.
Banker Guillermo Lasso, heading the newly created CREO Party, was chosen by 23.8% of voters. Next in line was ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez who gained 6% of the votes. Those remaining were shared among five other candidates. Lasso sought tax repeal, free trade agreements, and increased private foreign investment. He belongs to the ultra-conservative Opus Dei group and is linked to ex-Spanish President José María Aznar, a lead European spokesperson against widening democracy and integration in Latin America.
President Correa's admirers point to full and understandable explanations Correa offers for government policies:
making up for extreme poverty imposed by past governments
taking on the petroleum multinationals
examining the country's foreign debt and reducing it
condemning in Miami the unjust convictions in that city of the five Cuban anti-terrorists jailed in the United States
tying the destinies of his country to ALBA
and not attending the Summit of the Americas because Cuba wasn't invited.
At a post election press conference Correa dedicated his victory to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, our "friend who is fighting for his life and is the natural leader of the Latin American integration process."
Photo: President Correa visiting Casa Negra mine where two miners were trapped in 2010. Santiago Armas/Presidencia de la República, Flickr