The concept of democracy, of rule by the people, has been around for a while – all the way back to ancient Greece. Unfortunately, states do not always adhere to democratic principles, especially in countries that are relatively new to democracy or have not settled into a politically stable state. Ecuador is one of those countries that has not developed political stability. Ecuador has been shifting between democracy and authoritarian dictators for most of its history. However, Ecuador may be making a huge step forward in terms of democracy. President Lenín Moreno has given more power to the people by allowing them to have a say in their government with a seven question referendum. The referendum was also a political action against the former president, Rafael Correa. The major question on the ballot is about limiting the amount of terms a president can serve to two terms. In the end, all of the referendum questions passed, giving a huge win to President Moreno and the citizens of Ecuador.
Rafael Correa served as president to Ecuador from 2007 until 2017. During his campaign, he won the citizen’s support by initiating a Citizen’s Revolution, where he advocated for the people and reducing corruption. However, those campaign promises did not pan out. Correa did little to actually reduce corruption. In fact, he removed some of the anti-corruption agencies. His government lacked transparency and little changed. Correa selected Lenín Moreno as his successor to the presidency.
Lenín Moreno took presidential office in May of 2017. Moreno was originally the Vice President under President Correa. The two often had similar opinions in terms of governing. During his vice presidency, Moreno worked hard to advocate for those with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs, because he too is in a wheelchair. Today, he is the only head of state in a wheelchair. When Correa selected Moreno as his successor to the presidency, Correa thought Moreno would give the office back to Correa to serve in non-consecutive terms. However, Moreno went against Correa through this referendum, halting Correa’s prolonged presidency in Ecuador. As a result, Correa sees Moreno as a traitor. Though it was a close election in 2017, Moreno now has very high approval ratings – much higher than Correa.
While the tensions between Correa and Moreno rose, there was also trouble with Moreno’s Vice President, Jorge Glas. Glas took office in 2013, but was removed in 2017 due to corruption. Glas accepted various bribes, which was unacceptable in Moreno’s eyes, so Glas was replaced with María Alejandra Vicuña. While the change in Vice President from Glas to Vicuña does not directly impact the recent referendum, the transition of power initiated by Moreno displays Moreno’s commitment to reduce the amount of corruption in Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian referendum contained seven questions, mostly focusing on politics and the environment. The first question focused on preventing corruption. If a politician was found guilty of corruption, they would not be allowed to run for office. The next question, which is receiving the most attention from the media, is about whether or not to limit the amount of terms a president can run to two terms. The third question asked about reform for the Citizen Participation Council. The fourth question protects children of sexual assault, expanding the terms for conviction and legal punishments of the abuser. On the environmental side, the next question was about prohibiting mining in urban areas. Also on the environmental side, the final question was about the protection of Yasuní National Park, located in the northeast of the country. Moreno supports yes for all seven questions, whereas Correa supports the no side.
The referendum took place on February 4th, 2018. Before the voting, it was predicted that the people would vote yes for all questions, which is exactly what happened. All seven questions received an overwhelming yes response, which includes the limit on the amount of terms a president can be in office for. For the political changes, such as the term limits, those changes are automatically made to the Ecuadorian Constitution. As for the questions that do not impact the constitution, such as the mining reforms, the implementation will take a little bit longer and the effects may not be seen immediately. However, the government is already working on the specifics of the changes that must be made. There was a 75% voter turnout rate, which compared to the United States is low, but compared to other Latin American elections, the turnout is relatively low. On average across all seven questions, 64% of the votes went towards Moreno, or a yes on the referendum. Correa only received an average of 36% of the votes. Correa still took to twitter the next day, proudly boasting about his mere 36% support from the citizens. While Moreno takes the victory in this election, the results were more about a disapproval of Correa rather than a support for Moreno.
The Ecuadorian referendum marks a change in the Latin America political system. Many other countries in South America do not have term limits, allowing for many presidents and leaders to gain power for extended periods of time. For example, Evo Morales from Bolivia has been president for the past twelve years. This reversal of trends is a step in the right direction for South America as a whole because the era of long ruling presidents may be coming to an end, with Ecuador as the model, increasing the level of true democracy to the continent.