On December 8, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) confirmed that the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) alliance’s had won a supermajority of 112 seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly. The victory marked an amazing change of political fortune both for the often fractious opposition and, on the other side, the ruling socialist government. In a country in which the rules—including election laws and district size—are often malleable, the opposition’s supermajority is in part a creation of the government.
The MUD earned about 56 percent of the national vote but gained 67 percent of legislative seats. And if not for the intentional malapportionment engineered by the government and a party list tier that has a moderating effect on gains, things could have been far worse for chavismo.
How did the opposition coalition manage to earn more seats than votes, and how did the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) allow it to happen?
In large part, it stems from a 2009 reform that turned the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system into a disproportionate and unconstitutional Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) system. Both of these systems use multiple tiers—allocating some seats nominally through plurality voting for individuals and others proportionally through list voting for parties. But where the MMP system uses the proportional-list tier to compensate for disproportionalities in the nominal one, MMM is unlinked, producing a bonus for the largest party. The reform also reduced the weight of the party list from 40 percent to 30 percent of total legislative seats while increasing the weight of the disproportionate plurality vote. Last, the new system maintained a series of multi-member districts at the nominal tier, resulting in a block voting that also favors the largest party.
In the first election under the new system, the reforms favored the government—as intended. In 2010, the governing PSUV earned 58 percent of the seats of the unicameral national legislature with only 48 percent of the popular vote in 2010. In 2015, amidst an economic crisis and voter dissatisfaction with shortages and triple digit inflation, those changes favored the opposition allowing it this time to gain a disproportionate share of the assembly.
From MPP to las morochas to MMM
For many years, the Venezuelan system sought a direct proportional relationship between votes cast and seats earned. In 1993, the country adopted an MMP system in which voters would cast two votes: one for individuals elected via first-past-the-post rules, and the second for a national party list, with seats allocated proportionally to correct any distortions created at the first-past-the-post level. Later, Article 63 of Hugo Chávez’s 1999 political constitution enshrined proportional representation as a political right, stating that, “the law shall guarantee the principle of personalization of suffrage and proportional representation.”
However, clever politicians were eventually able to game the system and undermine this by using two party lists, a trick known as las morochas(Venezuelan Spanish for “twins”). In 2000, opposition governor of Yaracuy state, Eduardo Lapi, ran two different parties for office in an alliance. One of the allied parties presented its candidates only on the party list, while the other party ran candidates only on the first past-the-post level. This allowed the alliance to win four of the five party list seats with 40 percent of the vote, and six of the seven nominal list seats with 53 percent of the vote. Based on this success, the governing chavista party adopted the morochas strategy in the 2005 legislative elections (although its victory was already assured by the opposition’s abstention).
In 2009, the CNE and National Assembly passed the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPE), formalizing the morochas strategy by completely separating the district vote and the party list votes and creating a “parallel” MMM system. What this meant was that instead of the party list serving as a way to guarantee greater proportionately between vote shares and seat distribution, it reinforced the strength of the largest party by favoring overrepresentation at the nominal tier as well as a full proportional share at the list tier. In doing so, the new law violated the constitution’s guarantee of proportionality.
The LOPE reform also reduced the share of party list seats in the assembly from 40 percent to 30 percent, further reducing the possibility of proportional representation. The end result was to give greater weight to the disproportional first-past-the-post nominal elections. In addition, the reform gerrymandered some districts, concentrating heavy opposition support in few districts with high margins, and creating more PSUV-leaning districts with lower margins.
Last, the law maintained a number of multi-member nominal list districts whose candidates are elected via “plurality-at-large” voting, or block voting. In these places, voters cast a number of votes for individual candidates equal to the number of seats, with multiple winners being elected via plurality. This system tends to disproportionately favor the most popular party, since voters are usually unwilling to split tickets by voting for candidates from multiple parties.
Taken together, the LOPE reforms were intentionally designed to benefit the largest party by reducing the contribution of the proportional tier, keeping multi-member plurality districts, and eliminating the possibility that the list tier could compensate for disproportionality at the nominal level. But that only worked as long as the PSUV was the most popular party.
Unfortunately for party leaders, in 2015 this was no longer the case.
So what was, after the to-ing and fro-ing of the PSUV-manipulated electoral system, the electoral board on which parties competed on December 6?
At the list level, voters elected 51 deputies in 24 federal entities (23 states and the capital district). An additional 113 candidates were elected via first-past-the-post voting in 87 smaller districts. The majority of these had only had one seat, but there were 16 two-member districts, and five had three members up for grabs. Voters also elected three indigenous representatives in three larger, overlapping regional districts. That brings the total number of elected legislators to the National Assembly to 167.
Confusing? Yes, and arguably the PSUV and the government wanted it that way (Venezuelan Twitter was still abuzz with misinformation more than 24 hours after the election, with confused citizenry erroneously arguing that the current President of the Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, had lost his legislative seat.)
But this time how did the MUD benefit? Certainly not at the list level. At this tier, two deputies are elected through closed lists, but a list must receive twice the number of votes received by the second-most-voted list to win both seats. If this does not occur, the first and second highest voted lists each win one seat. (In another complication, in the three most populous states of Miranda, Zulia, and Carabobo, there are three seats that are distributed through a proportional representation system called D’Hondt that tends to reduce fragmentation, though not to the extent in the system described.) In the two-member districts, then, the system favors the second-highest vote winner in any district, actually helping the PSUV!
This is borne out by the numbers. The MUD outgained the PSUV 56 percent to 41 percent at this party list level and earned a highly proportional 55 percent of the seats (28 of the 51). The two parties split every district except the border state of Táchira, where the MUD more than doubled the PSUV’s vote share (66 percent to 29 percent) and won both seats. In other words, this level basically helped the two major parties, both the PSUV and MUD, at the expense of smaller parties.
But it was in the nominal, first-past-the-post elections that the opposition rode its wave of national support to overtake the PSUV. (For a full depiction of the data please visit my website.) There it out-gained the government party 81 seats to 32, despite once again earning only 56 percent of the vote. The PSUV still benefitted from malapportionment—it earned more than a dozen seats in the sparsely populated plains area of the country, called the llano—but was defeated nearly everywhere else. The malapportionment of seats in the llano was not enough to make up for the MUD’s victories elsewhere.
In the state of Aragua, the MUD earned 54 percent of the vote to 43 percent for the PSUV, yet the MUD earned eight seats to the PSUV’s one, winning all four nominal tier districts—three of which were multi-member. The MUD won by a wide margin in district 1 (60 percent-37 percent), a narrow margin in districts 2 and 4 (51 percent-47 percent and 52 percent-47 percent), and just barely squeaked out a victory in district 3, with 48.52 percent (69,140 votes) to 48.48 percent (69,058 votes). Under the old system, the PSUV would have earned both of the compensatory seats that were intended to correct the disproportionate allocation in the first-past-the-post, nominal competition.
Similar things occurred elsewhere, as the MUD rode the upsurge of popular discontent to gain eight of nine seats in the Capital District with 57 percent of the vote, seven of eight in Anzoátegui with 59 percent voter support, seven of eight in Bolívar with 60 percent of the ballots, eight of ten in Carabobo with 59 percent of voter support, and six of seven in Táchira with 66 percent of the ballots cast in its favor, and an incredible 13 of 15 in Zulia with a mere 60 percent of voter support.
The old MMP system would have helped the PSUV in all districts by correcting these disproportionalities. Further, with a more equal balance between tiers—allocating 50 percent of the seats via proportional representation instead of just 30 percent—the MUD would have enjoyed fewer seats. And had the government promoted only single-member districts in the first-past-the-post-elections, some of the smaller districts would likely have held PSUV pluralities. Instead the larger 2- and 3-member districts allowed the MUD to capture all the seats. In other words, the majoritarian system that allowed the PSUV to control the assembly in 2010 produced a similar outcome for the MUD in 2015.
Change to come?
In sum, the disproportionately of this system that was roundly criticized by supporters of the MUD in 2010 benefitted it tremendously in 2015, and afforded the coalition the advantages that gave it two-thirds of the legislature.
Nevertheless, despite now having a stake in the clearly skewed electoral system, the opposition would be wise to try to reform the current system. To begin, greater proportionality would increase voter representation—always a desirable goal, especially for a democratic coalition.
The parties themselves would also benefit. The MUD needed a perfect storm of factors to move its national vote share from 47 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2015, and arguably part of its electoral support was a repudiation of the governing party rather than an endorsement of its own platform. A decrease in its support on December 6—or worse, a breakdown of the heterogeneous coalition into its constituent parties—could result in a catastrophic performance in the next elections.
There are at least three practical steps for reform: 1) bring back MMP and the list tier’s compensatory function of topping off disproportionalities in the nominal-level voting; 2) weight the representation of the list and nominal tiers equally with a 50 percent to 50 percent breakdown; and 3) remove the loophole that would allow las morochas under MMP. To be sure, there are more urgent issues to legislate in Venezuela right now, but electoral reform should be on the agenda if politicians want to avoid an equally disproportionate outcome in 2020 and ensure a democratic and representative legislative system that avoids locking any one governing party into power.
*Published as 'How Did Venezuela's MUD Get Its Supermajority?' at Latin America Goes Global, December 14, 2015
I'm terrible at Twitter. I have a small account, tweet inconsistently, and cannot decide whether I am a social scientist, Latin Americanist, baseball fan, or casual observer. The groups that I follow and the few who follow me are fractured. In part, this is a function of my distrust in the whole enterprise: on Twitter, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media, everyone with an account is a salesperson in charge of selling opinions. This is exacerbated when users are limited to 140 characters to make a point, generate retweets, and attract clicks: complex ideas and thoughts (to say nothing of shallow ones) are broken down into black and white polemics or outrageous viewpoints. In short, this is an environment of Manichean expression, uncompromising viewpoints, and intransigence, which are not qualities propitious to my day job as a Political Scientist. In the latter capacity, I am trained to be skeptical of existing knowledge, objective in testing a causal relationship, and cautious in drawing conclusions.
The media is general is a favorite target of Political Scientists—see The Monkey Cage—who are bothered more than most by a lack of theory, lack of context, lack of objectivity, or a misunderstanding of multifaceted ideas (just ask any Political Scientist about Tom Friedman or Fox News). Yet there is not a level of criticism towards Twitter commensurate to the lack of qualifiers and complexity exhibited by myriad public figures—to say nothing of the other 400 million daily tweets from the platform’s 200 million daily users. The possibilities for disagreement rise sharply when controversial events like the death of an unarmed Eric Garner and #ICantBreath gain the public’s attention.
Yesterday, Aaron Gleeman, a Minnesota Twins blogger and a writer for NBC’s HardballTalk, tweeted out a Gawker article entitled "Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014". In it, Gawker uses a series of NAACP Legal Defense Fund tweets and crowdsourcing to compile a list of people of color killed by the police in the U.S. in the past 15 years. Anyone relying on Gawker for their news should probably reevaluate that choice, but the story has made the rounds: 166,000 views in under 24 hours.
What piqued my interest was a follow-up tweet Gleeman sent only minutes later:
This epitomizes everything I despise about Twitter and its dangers. First, instead of an actual in-depth report or an article about the effect of race on police treatment and the possibility of police abuse, an incredibly sensitive topic, the tweet is a narrative-filled, semi-sensationalistic Gawker "report". Details are structured to create one-sided stories of police brutality against people of color, and there is an absolute paucity of considering opposing views and alternative explanations beyond: the police are racist and abusive.
It is disappointing that so few in the media seem to want to interview any criminologists, who, you know, study these things for a living. They would probably lend further credence to the NAACP report without relying on evidence selected on the dependent variable. The combination of "police brutality" and "minorities" on Google Scholar yields 59,600 results. Articles like "Minority threat and police brutality: Determinants of civil rights criminal complaints in US municipalities" or "Community accountability, minority threat, and police brutality: an examination of civil rights criminal complaints" from the peer-reviewed journal Criminology provide robust statistical evidence that minorities of all races are disproportionately the targets of police brutality. In fact, I am disappointed that Gleeman, an analytics’ proponent and stat-conversant writer when it comes to baseball, should ignore more theoretically and statistically substantial work to tweet something from (again) Gawker. In fact, this is the type of question fivethirtyeight.com is great at answering (since writers on the site tend to ignore theory in favor of empirical relationships anyway)
Second, @sogren2184’s response to the tweet is of course bothersome because it is facile and combative ("the answer to that is irrelevant because it doesn’t fit the Liberal narrative of cops hating black people. Duh."), subverting a complex topic into an "us" vs. "them" shoutfest. @sogren2184 probably doesn’t invite complexity into his daily philosophical ramblings.
Third, on Twitter, even the attempts at intelligent discourse are easily ignored. It is possible that Gleeman was just responding to @sogren2184’s message with "Sad to say, but I expected this type of reaction", but it is a shame that the interesting comment—@cosmo334’s reaction—was ignored: "any stats out there on people (no matter color) killed by cops during the same time frame?". What an excellent, skeptical, social science-y question! It is a topic worth exploring, and, as the Criminology articles attest, is one constantly being addressed: is there a difference in the rate of police killing of unarmed citizens of color and citizens as a whole? Do Latinos, Asian-Americans, Americans of Middle Eastern descent, etc. suffer a similar rate of police brutality? Are these figures tied to arrest or conviction rates by race, or are they independent? Are there jurisdictional and geographical pockets where police brutality is more likely? How about where police brutality against minorities is more likely? What role does income play? Structural factors? Sex? Religion? The Gawker article tweeted and retweeted throughout the Twittersphere does not give us any true answers—only false ones that provoke more confrontation. How, for instance, would @sogren2184 combat an academic article than scientifically reveals the extent of racism and police brutality? Could that be shouted down as a Liberal lie?
I will continue to read my Minnesota Twins' updates on Twitter, and given my penchant for shades of gray and unwillingness to be confrontational, I will certainly also maintain my minimal following. That’s Ok. I’ll stick to my social science.
¿Qué pasó con "sufragio efectivo y no reelección"?
Escribí mis pensamientos respecto a la reelección política en la revista Carta Económica, publicada por la Corporación de Estudios para el Desarrollo (CORDES) en Quito en agosto de 2013 y luego en inglés para el blog Panoramas de la Universidad de Pittsburgh. Sin embargo, dados los recientes desarrollos en la región, hasta The Economist se está preguntando cuán estrictos deben ser los límites de reelección, y por eso quisiera revisitar el tema.
¿La razón? Hace un mes, en Ecuador, Alianza PAIS formalmente anunció una enmienda constitucional para permitir la reelección indefinida para todas las autoridades públicas y profundizar la consolidación del poder de su Presidente, mientras en Colombia, el Presidente Santos anunció una propuesta para eliminar la reelección presidencial inmediata. Además, entre el 2013 y la actualidad, la Cámara de Diputados boliviana aprobó una tercera elección del Presidente Evo Morales, y la Asamblea nicaragüense aprobó una reforma constitucional que garantiza la permanencia en el poder del mandatario. ¡No no no no! Esta fiebre re eleccionista es desafortunada; es dañina tanto para el pluralismo político como para las instituciones democráticas de los países afectados.
La reelección presidencial ofrece las ventajas señaladas por Morales, Ortega y Correa (y el vanguardista re eleccionista en la región, Hugo Chávez): incentivos para el cumplimiento de las promesas electorales; la posibilidad de mantener políticos populares; y el alargamiento del horizonte de tiempo para la implementación de políticas. Pero el continuismo también fomenta o facilita el abuso de poder, el personalismo y el debilitamiento de las instituciones democráticas. Cuanta mayor concentración de poder, mayor riesgo para la democracia y el pluralismo por la perduración de ese poder. La re elección indefinida es aún más peligrosa en los sistemas políticos híper presidenciales de América Latina, donde fuertes líderes poseen las herramientas para agudizar la concentración de poder y elevar sus preferencias personales por encima de las instituciones del Estado.
La solución es fácil. Para el fortalecimiento democrático, la mejor estrategia es simplemente el statu quo de la reelección limitada. Y si ya estamos soñando, sería beneficioso para la democracia una reducción en los poderes y atributos constitucionales presidenciales en muchos de los países de América Latina.
Historia y Hechos de la Re Elección Presidencial
Desde el establecimiento del presidencialismo en los Estados Unidos, ha habido un vigoroso debate sobre la reelección. Como reacción a la tiranía de la monarquía inglesa, varios "fundadores de la nación" estadounidenses abogaron por una norma informal para regular el ejercicio de la presidencia a máximo dos términos. Esta propuesta, sin embargo, fue criticada por Alexander Hamilton en Federalista 72 (1945 ), en el cual defendió la reelección presidencial indefinida como un mecanismo de rendición de cuentas del ejecutivo y, si aplicara, de prolongación de la utilidad de sus talentos y virtudes. Aunque no se proscribió la reelección en la Constitución, prevaleció la norma de facto de una sola reelección, primero a raíz de la renuncia voluntaria de George Washington después de su segundo término, y luego a través de la ratificación de la 22ª enmienda en 1951.
En América Latina, la reelección presidencial inmediata ha sido observada tradicionalmente con desconfianza. Por la mayor parte de su historia, la no reelección inmediata ha sido considerada como un instrumento necesario para limitar el poder y, de esta manera, impedir la aparición de dictaduras. La Revolución mexicana, por ejemplo, se inició bajo la consigna de "sufragio efectivo y no reelección" de Francisco Madero después de la sexta reelección del general Porfirio Díaz, quien se mantuvo ininterrumpidamente en el poder entre 1884 y 1911. Para algunos en la época contemporánea, la permanencia de presidentes recuerda el continuismo de Stroessner, los Somoza o Balaguer, y representa el abuso del poder y la personalización de la rama ejecutiva. Asimismo, no se permitió la reelección de forma continua del presidente en ningún país latinoamericano tras la Tercera Ola de Democratización (Carey 2003; Jaramillo 2005; Serrafero 2011).
Sin embargo, esta tendencia no duró. Desde la Constitución promulgada por Alberto Fujimori en 1993, presidentes tanto de derecha como de izquierda han acudido al éxito de su proyecto político y a su propia popularidad para buscar la reelección. Como consecuencia, se ha extendido la posibilidad de alguna forma de reelección—consecutiva o no—en casi todos los países latinoamericanos salvo Guatemala, Honduras, México y Paraguay (Zovatto 2013). Como se ve en el Cuadro 1, existe alguna de las distintas modalidades de continuidad en las otras 14 democracias: dos términos continuos en Perú (1993), Argentina (1994), Brasil (1997), Colombia (2005), Ecuador (2008), Bolivia (2009), la reelección indefinida en Venezuela (2009) y Nicaragua (2014), y la elegibilidad después de por lo menos un período interino en Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Panamá, República Dominicana y Costa Rica.
¡La Re Elección Limitada!
Las defensas de la re elección ilimitada son varias, pero también son débiles ante los enormes riesgos de la permanencia presidencial.
Como señaló Hamilton—y sucesivas generaciones de politólogos—la posibilidad de la reelección crea incentivos para que los legisladores cumplan con sus promesas electorales. Bajo esta lógica, los políticos tienen incentivos para cumplir con sus promesas electorales con el fin de mantenerse en el poder. Sin embargo, la reelección presidencial es teórica y empíricamente distinta a la reelección a otros cargos (Carey 2003). El presidente ecuatoriano o venezolano, por ejemplo, tienen mucha mayor capacidad para moldear su propio contexto político y las instituciones del Estado a través de sus poderes constitucionales que cualquier otro funcionario. Así, la reelección indefinida posee menor riesgo de abusos de poder para los asambleístas y los alcaldes, pero un mayor riesgo para el presidente.
Segundo, la reelección puede permitir una libertad para los votantes con respecto a sus opciones políticas. En teoría, una regla permisiva no elimina a ningún candidato de la boleta electoral, y por lo tanto, le ofrece al votante un menú completo de opciones. Así, eliminar restricciones sobre candidaturas puede representar la "voluntad popular" y permitir un grado de discreción para retener presidentes populares. No obstante, esta explicación es relativamente débil, debido a que al colocar al titular en la boleta electoral, otro candidato no se puede presentar. En la práctica, también es posible abusar de la acumulación de poder para cerrar espacios de oposición tanto de otros partidos como dentro del propio.
Esta es una preocupación real en el ámbito presidencial del Ecuador actual. ¿Quién es el sucesor de Correa? La oposición política tiene un apoyo de menos de 50% de la población, y está fragmentada. Los "candidatos de siempre", Lucio Gutiérrez y Álvaro Noboa, simplemente no tienen fuerte apoyo nacional (más allá de sus reconocidas debilidades como candidatos y políticos)--y tal vez ni siquiera partidos políticos. Tampoco hay posibilidades sobresalientes dentro del correismo, un movimiento sin suficiente trayectoria para producir competencia real.
Tercero, la permanencia de un presidente en sistemas políticos pocos institucionalizados puede imponer una estabilidad y continuidad de políticas que estaría ausente con el cambio frecuente de presidentes. Esta es una idea menos explorada por los académicos, pero sobresaliente en la práctica. Una baja institucionalización suele producir mayores niveles de inestabilidad, limitando la consistencia de las políticas. Además, el cambio de gobiernos suele producir mayor rotación burocrática en contextos de burocracias no weberianas que cuentan más con nombramientos políticos que con burócratas de carrera para implementar políticas. Pero, ¿Cuál sería el Ecuador hoy en día si León Febres Cordero u otro ex presidente hubiesen tenido la posibilidad de la reelección indefinida? ¿Qué habría sido la reacción de aquellos que hoy en día apoyan una eliminación de restricciones? Los cambios constitucionales tienen que ser deliberados, con un ojo en las repercusiones a largo plazo, y no a raíz de la coyuntura. Así se construyen las instituciones democráticas y la verdadera estabilidad.
El contraste de Ecuador con su país vecino de Ecuador es chocante. En el 2010, el ex Presidente Álvaro Uribe respetó la decisión de la Corte Constitucional Colombiana que prohibía una tercera re elección presidencial--algo que requirió tanto una corte autónoma e independiente como un político dispuesto a aceptar el juicio. Ahora, la propuesta de Juan Manuel Santos de eliminar la figura de la re elección presidencial amplifica la diferencia con el Ecuador (y Venezuela y Nicaragua y Bolivia…).
La continuada reelección de un presidente puede conllevar algunas ventajas, pero la permanencia atrinchera el statu quo y erosiona la institucionalización a favor del personalismo. Además, desde una perspectiva normativa, el continuismo requerido para inducir la construcción e implementación de políticas de largo plazo no debe originarse en los individuos sino en las instituciones. La mejor solución es imponer límites a la re elección, logrando una continuidad política y una rendición de cuentas junto con la renovación política, el sine qua non de la democracia.
Una versión de este blog fue publicado por Carta Económica:
Polga-Hecimovich, John. 2013. "La (re-)reelección y el poder presidencial". Carta Económica, 19(8): 2-4
Otra versión está disponible en inglés en Panoramas de la Universidad de Pittsburgh: "Old Faces in the Same Places", http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/content/old-faces-same-places-1
Carey, John M. 2003. "The Reelection Debate in Latin America." Latin American Politics and Society 45
Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. 1945 . The Federalist; or, The New Constitution.
New York: The Heritage Press.
Jaramillo, Juan Fernando. 2005. "La reelección presidencial inmediata en Colombia." Nueva Sociedad 198:15-
Navia, Patricio. 2009. "Limit the Power of Presidents, Not their Term in Office." Americas Quarterly Spring
Serrafero, Mario D. 2011. "La reelección presidencial indefinida en América Latina." Revista de Instituciones,
Ideas y Mercados 54:225-59.
Zovatto, Daniel. 2013. "América Latina padece de una fiebre reeleccionista." Estrategia & Negocios, 42-6.
As Penny Lane said in "Almost Famous", it’s all happening. And here in Ecuador, I’m disappointed in the tepid reaction. My friend and colleague Dr. Santiago Basabe Serrano, a PhD and professor of Political Science, recently appeared on a radio program and asked a legitimate question of a newly established commission. His comments were then taken out of context by the president of the country, who repeatedly called him "swine" and "mediocre" while discrediting his professional formation and expertise, and then imitated him to a laughing public. By any stretch of the imagination this is petty and bullying behavior, a disproportionate reaction to public comments by a university professor. Yet few have stepped up to publicly support Santiago.
Almost exactly one year after taking in a wanted Julian Assange, Ecuador has managed to grab international headlines again after offering—and perhaps now revoking?—asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The irony of Correa and the Ecuadorian government potentially granting political asylum to second leaker/publisher of classified intelligence in the wake of the country’s Media Law (Ley de Comunicación) has not been lost on the Ecuadorian media or government opposition forces. In broad terms, the law establishes regulation of editorial content and gives authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press. Perhaps the most controversial provision is the prohibition of so-called "media lynching" (linchamiento mediático), defined as "the dissemination of concerted and reiterative information, either directly or by third parties, through media outlets, with the purpose of undermining the prestige" of a person or legal entity or "reducing credibility." This allows authorities to order an offending media outlet to issue a public apology for any perceived offensive commentary, while subjecting it to criminal and civil sanctions.
The Inter-American Press Association characterizes it as "the most serious setback for freedom of the press and of expression in the recent history of Latin America", and it has been denounced by Freedom House, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador (perhaps unwisely, from a U.S. perspective), all Ecuadorian newspapers, media outlets from Argentina to Spain to Uruguay and the U.S. (including a controversial op-ed in the Washington Post), as well as international publication such as The Economist.
This muzzling of the media and critics represents a worrisome restriction on freedom of expression that has grown over time. Correa famously pursued libel charges against journalist Emilio Palacio and three directors of the Guayaquil daily El Universo in 2011 after Palacio published a controversial opinion column critical of the president. The three directors were fined 40 million USD, and all four were assessed three-years in prison. Correa later pursued similar charges against two journalists who wrote a book critical of business negotiations between the president’s brother, Fabricio Correa, and the government. It is evident that Correa has used his bully pulpit, to, well, bully anyone with the temerity to criticize him. I was recently witness to one of these episodes.
My friend Santiago is a Professor of Political Science at the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito. As part of his routine as a public intellectual, he regularly comments on national political issues in the media, from local stations to the BBC. On June 4, Santiago appeared on the "Good Morning" radio program with host Diego Oquendo (full interview here). Asked to comment on the establishment of a commission to establish culpability in the 30-S police uprising, Santiago acknowledged its perceived lack of impartiality—it is composed of ex-government officials and political allies—and challenged it to investigate an unresolved doubt: who ordered the army to open fire during President Correa's rescue operation, an action that ultimately resulted in bloodshed?
"Who ordered the first shots... in the police hospital? I would love to know: who ordered the shots? Because someone ordered the first shots. Someone ordered shooting. Because the junior command of the armed forces does not make that decision by itself. Someone ordered them to shoot. The country also wants to know. And if we are in a process of transparency, of investigating what exactly happened, well then, let’s know everything. Let's find out who the responsible soldiers are, who the responsible policemen are, and above all, that they answer the question in a million: who ordered them to open fire against civilians...?"
The host, Oquendo, intimates that Santiago is implicating President Correa as the responsible party. Santiago categorically denies this, responding: "I don't think it was the President of the Republic. And my comment was not meant to insinuate in some biased way that President Correa was the person who-, who directly ordered that." Instead, Santiago wonders if it was someone within the military hierarchy.
The damage, however unwittingly, had already been done. The statements were apparently so newsworthy that President Correa felt the need to address Santiago on his weekly public television broadcast, Enlace Ciudadano. As befitting his governing style, he is quite confrontational. At the three-hour mark of the broadcast, the president pontificates on the 30-S crisis while Santiago's image flashes on the screen. He says:
"We will not allow swine, through ignorance or bad blood, to trick our pueblo. Each time that they tell an atrocious lie, with the misery of their souls —'Who ordered the first shots?' 'Where are the videos?' and all that— we will respond with the historical truth. We will not permit these mediocre people, who search for any type of relevance to escape the anonymity to which their mediocrity... has sunk them, try to manipulate the truth regarding the 30 of September. Play with whatever you want, except the 30 of September. We will not permit it!"
Thus begins a five-minute video presenting the government’s account of 30-S. In it, the narrator accuses Santiago, ex-congressional deputy Andrés Páez, and noted jurist Julio Cesar Trujillo of lying to the Ecuadorian people. The narrator presents "the pseudo-analyst, Santiago Basabe" and plays the radio recording of Santiago asking, "Who ordered the first shots?" No context is given. As the video ends, the screen dissolves to the president who shakes his head incredulously and smiles. After some words, Correa's face hardens and he begins to imitate Santiago in an effeminate tone: "What I want to know is, who ordered the first shots?'." He smirks. In the reaction shot, the audience claps and laughs. The president goes on:
"Poor mediocre people; so much human misery. They end up looking ridiculous for denying the truth. Any mediocre person who wants to escape anonymity… and because they say so many stupid things, the media interviews them. [.....] And while they try to deny the undeniable and the crimes that occurred that day—and the guilty parties of those crimes—they only demonstrate the misery of their soul. And each time these swine try to trick us, we will turn to the historical truth. Play with whatever you want—except September 30! Did you hear me, mediocre people? Play with whatever you want—except 30-S!"
Supporters may say that this is not a direct threat. They are right. But it is certainly a measure of intimidation: the president of a country is imitating a private citizen and besmirching his professional reputation on a public broadcast.
Shocked at this offensive against my friend, I posted the radio interview and television clip on social media, beginning on Twitter (where admittedly, I have few followers) and then on Facebook. I anticipated incredulous reactions. Alas, few were forthcoming save Santiago's wife and an ex-student of Santiago's. I found the lack of commentary curious. At the same time, throughout the week people who had seen the post approached me to express incredulity. "Correa really went overboard, didn't he?" they confided. Yet none of them had commented on Facebook. Another friend, a Correa supporter, suggested I talk to Santiago to have him stop voicing his opinions, since it could only lead to other incommensurate reactions from the president. Instead of comforting me, I found these reactions troubling. Why weren't people more outraged? And why weren't those outraged people open in their criticism? Apparently, a de facto Ley de Comunicación is already in effect.
Recently, I have heard a lot of Ecuadorians voice support for Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Well, as the Ley de Comunicación passes the president's desk for any last-second vetoes and Rafael Correa decides whether or not to allow Snowden into his country, I would like to know: where are the supporters of free speech, and where are the supporters of all the Santiago Basabes?
 The 30-S crisis was a violent confrontation between the president and the national police on 30 September 2010. A bill to eliminate medals and bonuses with promotions for the national police caused nationwide protests by the service. Correa publicly addressed them at their headquarters in Quito, but the speech quickly turned rancorous, as he verbally challenged them to kill him. One officer discharged a tear-gas canister that nearly hit Correa and the president was immediately taken to the police hospital. Tensions escalated after police surrounded the hospital and an elite commando squad was employed to rescue the president. Eight people throughout the country were killed during protests.
 ¿Quién ordenó disparar, pues? En el hospital mili--, en el hospital de la policía. A mí me encantaría saber eso: ¿quién ordenó disparar? Porque alguien ordenó disparar ahí. Alguien ordenó disparar ahí. Porque las--, los mandos medios de las fuerzas armadas no toman el--, esa decisión por sí mismas. Alguien ordenó disparar. El país también quiere saber eso. Y si es que estamos en un proceso de transparencia, de abrirnos a saber que mismo pasó, bueno pues, que sepamos todo. Sepamos quiénes son los responsables militares, quienes son los responsables policiales, y sobre todo, que contesten a la gran pregunta de millón: ¿Quién ordenó abrir fuego contra civiles y militares en el hospital de la policía el 30 de septiembre?
 Yo no creo que haya sido el President de la República, efectivamente. Y mi comentario no era insinuando tendenciosamente que el President Correa haya sido directamente el que, el que ordenó eso.
 No permiteremos que canallas, por ignorancia o mala fé, engañen a nuestro pueblo. Cada vez, con su miseria de alma, digan una mentira tan atroz, '¿Quién ordenó disparar? ¿Dónde están los videos?' y todo eso, le responderemos con la verdad histórica. No permiteremos que estos mediocres, que buscan por cualquier medio algo de relevancia, salir del anonimato donde su mediocredad—con mucha justicia—los ha hundido, traten de manipular la verdad con respecto al 30 de septiembre. Juegen con lo que quieren; menos que el 30 de septiembre. ¡No lo vamos a permitir!
 Esta gente tiene tanta miseria humana, y son tan mediocres- quieren negar hasta lo evidente. Pero no permiteremos que canallas trastornen la verdad histórica. 'Que fue una simple insuborinación policial en un cuartel' [….] Cuanta miseria humana, y cuanta canallada. [imitando Santiago] 'Yo lo que quiero saber es ¿quién ordenó disparar?' [risas de la audiencia] Pobres mediocres, ¿no? Cuánta miseria humana. Quedan en ridículo por tratar de negar lo evidente, ¿no? Cualquier mediocre que quiere salir del anonimato, y como habla tantas estupideces, entonces lo entrevistan en todos los medios. Pero … en todos los medios, seguirá siendo un mediocre. Y mientras traten de negar lo innegable y los crimenes que ocurrieron ese día, y los culpables de esos crimenes, tan solo demostrarán su miseria de alma. Y cada vez que estos canallas traten de engañar, sacaremos nuevamente la verdad histórica. Juegen con lo que sea—menos el 30 de septiembre. ¿Me escucharon, mediocres? ¡Juegen con lo que sea—menos el 30-S!
Party Nationalization after the 2013 Ecuadorian Legislative and Presidential Elections
Note: This appears on a March 14, 2013, entry of The Monkey Cage
By Jason Eichorst and John Polga-Hecimovich
On Friday, 8 March, the Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE) released the final voting results for the legislative and presidential elections held on 17 February. These results verify the dominance of the government party, Alianza Patria Altiva I Soberana (Alianza PAIS), and hint at a realignment of the party system. Riding the coattails of the popular incumbent president Rafael Correa, Alianza PAIS has transcended the historical tendency towards regionalization of the country’s parties through a strong performance across the country’s 34 electoral districts.
This election marks an important milestone for democracy in Ecuador. President Correa is completing the first full term for an Ecuadorian president since Sixto Durán Ballén (1992-1996), and his time in office surpasses that of Isidro Ayora (1926-1931), making him the longest-serving president in the country’s history.[i] His current mandate terminates on 10 August 2013. As expected, Correa easily won re-election in the first-round with 57% of the valid vote, and Alianza PAIS won a 92-seat majority in the 137-member unicameral legislative assembly (seat distribution is still being decided by the National Electoral Council, pending a ruling on potential voter fraud in the province of Guayas).
This is Correa’s third presidential election, winning in both 2006 and 2009. His first term was cut short in 2009 for early elections after the adoption of the 2008 Constitution. The 2008 Constitution, drafted by members of Alianza PAIS, allows for immediate one-time re-election.[ii] Correa’s 2009 election was the first since the return to democracy in 1979 that a candidate won the presidency without competing in a second-round, exceeding the 50 per cent threshold in the first-round.
The president’s overwhelming support in the election can be credited to a number of factors, including: increased government reserves due to strong oil prices and increased tax revenues; increased social spending and subsequent reduction of poverty and unemployment; increased access to healthcare; and improved infrastructure. However, this should not suggest that the administration has proceeded without conflict. A violent confrontation between Correa and the national police erupted on 30 September 2010 in response to expected benefit cuts. Correa has also faced significant criticism for undercutting democratic institutions (including an unconstitutional reform of the judiciary) and directly challenging freedom of press.
The president is elected using a majority-runoff system. A candidate can by-pass the second round if she wins the first-round with more than 50 per cent of the vote, or between 40 and 50 per cent of the vote with a 10 percentage point margin of victory. The second-round is between the top two candidates, which would have been held on 7 April 2013.
Legislators are elected separately from one national district (15 total seats), 24 provincial districts (116 total seats)[iii], and three "external" districts (6 total seats) using a preferential vote system with seats distributed by party. Candidates run on a party list for each ballot. A voter has as many votes as there are seats. Those votes can be distributed to the entire party-list (en plancha), or redistributed across lists to individual candidates (nominales), as in panachage. A voter does not have to exhaust all of her votes if she decides to select individual candidates. Total party votes combine nominal votes and all of the plancha votes. Seats are distributed from total party votes using D’Hondt formula.
The structure of the legislative electoral system encourages a regionalization of the party system, where parties can be successful in specific provinces and non-existent in others (Pachano 2006). Politicians throughout the country’s history have tended to find support in one region or the other, but rarely in both. Notably, since the return to democracy in 1979 business-friendly conservative parties have been successful in the coast and are less competitive in the sierra or Amazonian lowlands ("Oriente"), while labor- and indigenous-friendly parties have found support in the highland Andean plateau ("sierra").
The geographical extension or limitations of parties can be expressed through the concept of party nationalization, which measures the consistency of party strength across districts. Empirically, we can use vote share support across districts to measure party nationalization. While multiple indices exist (Morgenstern et al. 2011), we use the Standardized Party Nationalization Score (sPNS) developed by Boschsler (2010) to capture the extent of party nationalization for each party. This measure determines the inequality of vote shares across districts, weighted by district size and the total number of electoral districts. This produces a continuous variable between 0 and 1, where a larger number indicates greater static nationalization.
Table 1 shows descriptive statistics for each major party competing in the legislative elections. We show the party ideology (party type), the year the party was established (established), the percent of total votes won (total vote)[iv], total number of provinces where the party competed (prov.), minimum vote percentage (min), maximum vote percentage (max), vote standard deviation (SD), and nationalization (sPNS).
Table. Descriptive statistics from 2013 legislative elections, provincial deputies
As the table makes clear, Alianza PAIS is one of the few parties that has managed to overcome the debilitating coast/Andes regional divide that has historically plagued Ecuadorian politics and cemented itself as a truly national party. This is due in part to the strength of the party’s national policy that appeals to their broad base, as well as Correa’s permanence in power. To begin with, social welfare programs like the Human Development Bond and investments in higher education impact citizens across the country, while the unprecedented rule and reach of the president has allowed his party brand to grow in places, like the Oriente, that did not originally support his movement. Further, PAIS has co-opted other movements on the Left, like the MPD, MUPP-NP, and the PS-FA, forcing them into electoral pacts with the government party or simply poaching their support in their traditional bastions of power.
The party also benefits by merely showing up. In 2013, Alianza PAIS was one of just three parties (including, the populist PRIAN and PSP) to compete for legislative seats in all 34 electoral districts. Yet it earned significant support in even the weakest of these districts. In total, PAIS won more than 50 percent of the party vote in the coastal provinces (Santo Domingo, Manabí, Los Rios, three of four Guayas districts, El Oro), the metropolitan Quito area (three of four Pichincha districts), and abroad (all three foreign districts, including 69 percent of the vote share in "Europe, Asia and Oceania"). It earned its lowest votes shares in the southern Andes and the Oriente, yet still won 17 percent of the vote in its worst performing province of Loja.
PAIS’s strong performance in the coastal provinces shows a further erosion of traditional coastal powers PSC and PRE, and relative newcomer PRIAN (founded in 2002). The PSC, a business-friendly Social Christian party, won only 5 of 20 possible seats in the largest coastal province, Guayas, and only 8% of the total national vote. This is a major loss for a party that has concentrated its resources and energy in this region, and held it along with the PRE and PRIAN since 1982. The PSC did not place candidates in any of the six Oriente provinces, the Galápagos, or three southern Andean provinces in 2013. The PRE performed just as poorly. It failed to earn even 9% of the vote in any province, and like the PSC, ran candidates in only 24 electoral districts, winning just 3% of the national vote for what appears to be a single legislative seat. Meanwhile, perpetual presidential candidate Álvaro Noboa’s PRIAN failed to break 8% of the vote in any district (despite running lists in all 34), earned only 4% of the national vote, and did not win a single Assembly seat.
Interestingly, the comparatively poor showing of PAIS in the more indigenous south-central Andes was not met by gains in the largely indigenous Pachakutik (MUPP-NP) party, which only fielded candidates in three districts. Recent electoral failures have encouraged Pachakutik to form an electoral alliance with other leftists-parties to remain viable in the legislative election. Even that was unsuccessful. However, the PSP maintained its strong showing in the northern Oriente, the home of party leader and ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez. The party competed in all 34 districts, but performed best in the more mestizo and indigenous Andes and Oriente than on the coast.
The closest competitor to Alianza PAIS comes from the right. CREO emerged as the second-largest political force in the country, with an average of 9% of the national legislative vote and 12 legislators (pending confirmation by the CNE). It ran party lists in 29 electoral districts, and represents a new collection of business and conservative forces to oppose Correa’s "Citizens’ Revolution". By doing so, CREO also eats away at the PSC’s traditional support. This is very similar to the way Bolivia’s right-wing coalition emerged to combat Evo Morales’ MAS. The party has ties to Guayaquil and Quito’s chambers of industry and commerce.
In Figure 1 we plot the sPNS over time for five of the largest parties in Ecuador (PAIS, PRE, PRIAN, PSC, PSP). We also include MUPP-NP and ID, two parties with diminishing electoral support in the contemporary period. MUPP-NP was regionally strong in the Indigenous provinces until its decline. ID was a consistent competitor in every election since the 1979 transition to democracy. It was traditionally a coherent social democratic party, but was unable to overcome internal factions to compete in the 2013 election.
Alianza PAIS has shown high territorial homogeneity since its inception. Although the party is still young, it shows a degree of nationalization only achieved by PSC in the early 1990s and the ID in the 1980s, when the latter was the largest competitive center-left party. We see that following historical patterns of caudillismo, where large landholders controlled large regions of the country both politically and economically, parties in Ecuador tend to be regional in their appeals and are only nationally competitive for short periods of time. After only one full electoral cycle, PAIS managed to improve on its nationally competitive position in the 2013 election, rising from about 0.82 to 0.90. Some of the increase in party nationalization for the opposition parties in the 2013 is due to their consistent poor performance across all provinces. It should be interesting to see if the PAIS’s electoral dominance at the national level encourages the opposition to unify behind a coherent national program, or if it will suffer from factionalism and infighting, like the Venezuelan opposition of the 2000s.
Overall, we find that the traditional parties have weakened even in regions of traditional strength. Alianza PAIS has consolidated its support and has consistently competed nationally since its first election. It is, however, to early to determine if this strength is stable without President Correa. The constitution limits a president to two four-year terms. Correa has already publicly expressed his interest to step-down after the end of this term (his second). However, PAIS does have the legislative strength to modify the constitution, which requires a 2/3 legislative vote to ratify a constitutional amendment. Ecuador does not have the types of institutional arrangements that protect the minority from strong, unified control of government. It will be interesting to see if PAIS can maintain its national appeal and strength without Correa leading the presidential ticket.
Bochsler, Daniel. 2010. "Measuring Party Nationalization: A New Gini-Based Indicator that Corrects for the Number of Units." Electoral Studies 29:155-68.
Conaghan, Catherine M. 2012. "Prosecuting Presidents: The Politics within Ecuador's Corruption Cases." Journal of Latin American Studies 44 (04):649-78.
Mejía Acosta, Andrés, and John Polga-Hecimovich. 2011. "Coalition Erosion and Presidential Instability in Ecuador." Latin American Politics and Society 53 (2):87-111.
Morgenstern, Scott, John Polga-Hecimovich, and Peter Siavelis. 2011. "Measuring Party System Nationalization: A Cautionary Tale from Chile." In Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting. Chicago.
Pachano, Simón. 2006. "Ecuador: Fragmentation and Regionalization of Representation." In The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes, ed. S. Mainwaring, A. M. Bejarano and E. Pizarro. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal S. 2007. Crisis Without Breakdown: Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[i] Presidential instability has been common in Ecuador since 1996: Abdalá Bucaram (1996-1997) was (unconstitutionally) impeached and replaced by the president of congress; Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000) was similarly removed in a military-indigenous coup led by Col. Lucio Gutiérrez; and as civilian president, Gutiérrez (2003-2f005) was also unconstitutionally impeached (See: Conaghan 2012; Mejía Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich 2011; Pérez-Liñán 2007).
[ii] Correa’s partial term from 2006 to 2009 is not considered to contribute to the total number of terms he can serve.
[iii] Three provinces (Guayas, Manabi, and Pichincha) are further divided into multiple districts. Those districts in addition to the foreign districts result in 34 total electoral districts.
[iv] Total votes for a party are a mixture of list and preference votes, and cannot simply be added to calculate the party vote share. In order to determine party vote share, we borrow from the Swiss Federal Statistical Institute’s concept of the "fictional voter", which is defined as: the number of votes obtained by a given party, multiplied by the number of valid ballots over the number of valid votes. In notational form, this becomes slightly more complicated, since the number of votes obtained by the party requires distributing the list vote over all candidates, and then taking the sum of all the preference votes. For party with candidates in district of m magnitude with voters and total votes is, party strength looks like this:
The mood was somber in my house on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, after hearing of the death of Hugo Chávez. The president had not appeared in public since early December 2012, was fighting cancer and a mysterious respiratory infection, and had lost the ability to speak, yet Venezuelans I know seemed to assume that he would return. His passing even shocked silent the Chigüire Bipolar for a day. In human terms, it was difficult to assimilate the passing of a figure who cast such a large shadow over contemporary Venezuela and who directly or indirectly affected the lives of so many current and future Venezuelans (amazingly, my Venezuelan wife had never voted in a presidential election without him on the ballot). Indeed, for someone who led his country with such conviction and outsized gusto and rhetoric, the circumstances of the comandante’s death were much more eliot (as in t.s.) than Sid Vicious.
Assessing Chávez’s legacy will be the work of generations of social scientists and historians. His tangible legacy is much clearer than the intangible one (as, I suppose, is often the case with all tangibles and intangibles): he leaves an economy in shambles, a bloated and inefficient public bureaucracy, an enormous public debt, and dated infrastructure. Corruption is rampant. Homicide rates are at record highs, and political institutions are weak or non-existent. Despite enjoying record high oil prices over the past dozen years, the country suffers from food shortages on such basic items as meat, sugar, milk, and Harina P.A.N., the corn flour for every Venezuelans' daily arepa. At the official exchange rate, Harina P.A.N. imported from Colombia is cheaper in Washington, D.C. than it is in Caracas. And when my wife and I were married in the Andean state of Táchira in 2011, we arranged for family and friends to arrive via Colombia rather than Venezuela because official exchange rates in Venezuela made the cost prohibitively expensive.
Of course, I probably have Chávez and his friends to thank for my marriage in the first place: Rebeca signed the 2003 petition for the 2004 presidential recall referendum, and her name was subsequently published on the lista Tascón. As with innumerable other Venezuelans, this leaked signature limited the possibility of public sector employment, and she chose instead to seek a Master’s Degree in Ecuador, where I met her. Later, she came to the U.S., where work was more forthcoming. More shockingly, she is one of nine public high school classmates (of 37) who have escaped political or economic conditions in Venezuela to work abroad. I have no doubt that Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution genuinely hoped to sew economic development and social equality while giving voice to the poor. But the lista Tascón incident is representative of a broader pattern of intimidation and politicization of public life that marked Chávez’s tenure—especially after 2002.
It is difficult to discuss Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution without taking sides. The president’s rhetoric was often inflammatory and polarizing, with accusations and conspiratorial plots hurled against enemies, real or perceived. Chávez cultivated enemies like Bush and Uribe, and friends like Putin, Lukashenko, and Ahmadinejad, and his international and domestic role was often that of a dangerous provocateur. It is his leadership (and oil money) that permitted the creation of ALBA and UNASUR. He was, if nothing, consistent across domestic and international in his political intransigence. Of course, this stubbornness was fueled by the often disorganized and uninspired opposition forces, which consistently underestimated the breadth and width of Chávez’s support and foolishly perpetrated a coup d’état with the silent consent of a pliant U.S. in 2002. Any trace of compromise from the government disappeared with this enormous blunder.
H.L. Mencken famously wrote that a demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. As popular elections proved over and over again, Chávez was only a demagogue in the eyes of 40% of Venezuelans; he was a patron and hero to the rest. In January I visited Western Caracas, around the area of Pérez Bonalde and near the neighborhood 23 de enero (where a rally lead by the Communal Council and a PSUV deputy commemorating the fall of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez famously armed young children with Kalashnikovs while flanked by graffiti of an armed Jesus). Leaving the metro, there was a National Electoral Council booth in the station for people to register to vote. Up the stairs, in the light of day, I encountered people scurrying in and out of a Misión Alimentación office with food, a line for free eye exams as a part of Misión Milagro, and hand-written signs for people to enroll to improve their literacy in Misión Robinson. Like so many ringing it, this neighborhood with unfinished buildings and even unpaved roads was being offered basic government services at little or no cost. The political recognition and electoral mobilization of these sectors means that Venezuelan leaders can no longer ignore the poor. In fact, social programs targeted at alleviating poverty have become standard fare for opposition leaders, a much-welcomed addition to party platforms.
Still, Chávez leaves behind a bitterly divided, polarized country. He preached a politics of exclusion, especially after the failed coup of 2002 and with greater gusto after the PDVSA strike of 2002-2003. Under his rule, a violent society grew from bad to worse. According to UNODC Homicide Statistics, Venezuela had the fifth-highest homicide rate in the world in 2010, unmatched by middle-income countries. Sadly, many Venezuelans are numbed to the carjackings, murders, and secuestros express that take place around them. Playing dominos with my brother-in-law and his friends one night, they regaled me their or their families’ experiences of robberies and kidnappings; I was the only one of the bunch without a story. Another high school classmate of Rebeca’s was murdered at an ATM in her hometown, the victim of a robbery. Chávez himself proclaimed to be the center of innumerable assassination attempts, and wore bulletproof clothing constantly, including bulletproof liqui liquis. Perhaps this violence and fear of violent death makes Chávez’s passing at the hand of the insidious but too common cancer even more startling.
What happens now? Well, following the trail blazed by Chávez himself, the government has decided to ignore article 233 of the 1999 Constitution and appoint Vice-President Nicolás Maduro as President instead of Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. There will be elections—maybe in thirty days, maybe more—, and Maduro will win, bolstered by sympathy for Chávez and the promise of continuing his revolution. Unfortunately for Maduro, he will be stuck with cleaning up the mess created by Chávez, the violence, the economic situation, the crumbling infrastructure, without the benefit of Chávez’s charisma, force of personality or iron control over those around him. Things will not change much in the short-term, little-lone overnight. The same people are in power, the lack of institutionality endures, and still 50% of the population supports the PSUV. Chavismo may live on, but it will not remain in power indefinitely. Henrique Capriles’ time will come.
Chávez long expressed that he wanted to be buried in Sabaneta, his family’s hometown in the llano. Forty-eight hours after his official death, while millions mourned his absence, Interim President and successor Maduro has announced instead that the ex-President would be embalmed and displayed "so that the whole world can contemplate it like Ho-Chi Ming, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung". Chávez would have little right to complain; it is he who handpicked Maduro, Cabello, Elías Jaua, et al., and it is he who is ultimately responsible for creating his own myth. Rather than resting in linda Barinas, tierra llanera, Chávez will no doubt transcend the economic and political turmoil he leaves behind as a symbol for anti-imperialism and the poor. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the majority of Venezuelans.
Rafael Correa begins March 2013 as the longest-lasting president in Ecuadorian history, with a little over six years in power. His victory in the February 17, 2013, national elections guarantees him at least four more years, and opens the possibility of constitutional changes to permit permanent re-election. The president not only won re-election with a resounding 57% of the valid vote, but he defeated his nearest challenger, banker Guillermo Lasso, by a 35-point margin. Furthermore, Correa’s Alianza Patria Altiva I Soberana (Alianza PAIS) party obtained the first legislative majority since the country’s return to democracy in 1979 with 92 of the 137 seats in the unicamerical National Assembly.
Correa’s continuity and success is not an accident, but a byproduct of good fortune, targeted social policies and increased social expenditures, and a weak opposition. However, despite these electoral victories and unprecedented presidential stability, the short-term successes of the administration’s policies presage mixed long-term prospects for the Ecuadorian economy and democratic institutions.
The Economy, Social Spending, and Poverty
Correa’s overwhelming support in the election can be credited to a number of factors, including increased government reserves due to strong oil prices and increased tax revenues; an increase in social spending and increased access to health-care; and a growing economy and improved infrastructure. The GDP has grown steadily since 2007, with a 5.2% increase in 2012 (Figure 1, chart 2). Further, the majority of this growth was outside the hydrocarbon sector, especially construction and aquaculture. Crucially, this growth has not produced inflation. The country closed 2012 with an annual inflation rate of 4.16% (Figure 1, chart 1), within the healthy range established by the Central Bank.
The central government has benefitted during this time from high oil prices, which have remained around $80 a barrel during Correa’s tenure (Figure 1, chart 3). Although petroleum production represents only 12-13% of GDP (Figure 1, chart 1), earnings from the oil sector account for half of the government’s revenue (INEC 2013). However, this revenue collection is not sufficient to cover the doubling of social spending in the country. Part of this difference is being covered by improvements in the internal revenue service (Servicio de Rentas Internas, SRI), which has increased its coverage and effectiveness of tax collection in the country. Discounting seasonality, collected tax revenue has doubled from around US$400 million to US$900 million monthly, as shown by the sustained increase of the tax take in Figure 1, chart 4 ("Yasuní and the future of Ecuadorean oil" 2013).
Notwithstanding the high oil prices and improved tax collection, the fiscal deficit has grown to nearly US$4 billion annually under Correa. To cover these expenditures, the government has signed oil-for-cash agreements with China for nearly US$9 billion at terms worse than those proposed by the demonized International Monetary Fund ("Counting on Chinese credit" 2012). It is precisely this type of deal that augers poorly for the sustainability of the social programs—or the country’s external debt. Finite oil reserves and high interest rates on Chinese loans are even less advantageous to Ecuador than previous loans from foreign lenders that were bemoaned from the government; the country loudly escaped one type of dependency when it defaulted on its foreign debt in 2008, but it has now apparently traded that for a similar dependency on China.
Figure 1. Economic Indicators
Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (INEC) and the Ecuadorian Central Bank
The annual budget has doubled since the start of the Correa administration, increasing from 11 billion dollars in 2006 to over 26 billion dollars in 2012 (INEC 2013). The government has invested heavily in infrastructure and education, and has provided cash-handouts to poor families through the Human Development Bond (BDH). Under this program, poor families with children up to the age of 16 receive a monthly stipend of US$50, accounting for some 1.6 million people (Bono de Desarrollo Humano y Pensiones 2012). The results have been positive. According to the Central Bank, since taking office in 2006, poverty has dropped 10 full percentage points, from 37.6 per cent in December 2006 to 35.09 per cent in December 2008 to 27.3 per cent in December 2012 (Figure 2, chart 1). Inequality has also dropped, as shown in Figure 2, chart 2, from a Gini coefficient of 0.54 to 0.48. Lastly, unemployment has also experienced similar reductions, dropping from 9.03 per cent in January 2007 to 7.31 per cent in December 2008 to 5.04 per cent in December 2012 (Figure 2, chart 3), although this does not factor in underemployment that is common throughout the country.
Figure 2. Socio-economic indicators
Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (INEC) and the Ecuadorian Central Bank
Offsetting many of these socio-economic gains, Correa has faced significant criticism for undercutting democratic institutions and directly challenging freedom of press. Correa pursued libel charges against three directors and a journalist of the Guayaquil daily El Universo after publishing an opinion piece on the policy mutiny that was critical of the president. The three directors were fined US$40 million, and all four were assessed three-years in prison. Correa pursued similar charges against two journalists who wrote a book critical of business negotiations between the president’s brother, Fabricio Correa, and the government. After months of negative international and domestic attention, including criticism from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, President Correa announced in February 2012 that he would drop all charges ("Media battle is part of wider war" 2012; "Meting out punishment" 2012).
Somewhat ironically, Correa granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, on August 16, 2012 ("Ecuador gambles on WikiLeaks founder Assange" 2012; "Ricardo Patiño anuncia que Ecuador concede el asilo a Julian Assange" 2012). The administration publically claimed that this was a principled decision to protect freedom of speech, although it is consistent with an antagonistic foreign policy that is publicly critical of the U.S. and international financial institutions. The administration has also garnered criticism for cultivating diplomatic links with authoritarian regimes, and hosted visits by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Syrian Vice Chancellor. Correa also offered asylum to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in an interview with the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo in October 2012 (Marreiro 2012).
In 2012, judicial reforms have garnered the most attention for undercutting democratic institutions. In the interest of eliminating judicial corruption, the Correa administration proposed a 3-person committee that would have full authority over a period of 18 months to reform the National Court of Justice. This 3-peson committee replaces the Transitional Judicial Council with the same responsibility as determined by the 2008 Constitution. Critics suggest that the 3-person committee will be populated by loyalists to Correa and his party and that it unconstitutionally replaces a pre-existing institution. This and nine other proposals passed by popular referendum on 7 May 2011. 
Correa and Alianza PAIS’s success in the 2013 elections is an indicator of the president’s widespread popular approval and lack of popular investment in or regard for matters of horizontal accountability or balance-of-powers. Ultimately, for the majority of Ecuadorian voters, economic voting took precedence over the more abstract matter of democratic accountability (Lewis-Beck 1988; Powell and Whitten 1993). The increase in social spending, education, and health care are the most relevant yardsticks of government performance for most of the population. However, the deficit of democratic institutions and increasing monetary and petroleum obligations to China will inevitably catch up to Ecuador.
Further, there is no political force on the horizon that appears capable of restricting the president’s power or offering a legitimate counterpoint to Alianza PAIS. Much like Venezuela in its first decade under Hugó Chávez, the fragmented and debilitated opposition forces have not managed to unite around a common proposal, ideology or political strategy. Until they coalesce around a common front, President Correa will continue to mold the Ecuadorian state as he wants, with certain socioeconomic and infrastructure gains, but at the cost of political pluralism and dialogue, and institutional independence.
This spells institutional change for Ecuador, with a deepening of the president’s Citizen’s Revolution and an increase in the concentration of state power in the executive. The real prize for Correa in all of this is his supermajority in the assembly, which allows him a range of legislative possibilities in the 2013-2017 period. For example, although the president publicly denied the possibility of changing the constitution to permit indefinite president re-election—a measure taken by ideological allies Chávez and Daniel Ortega—it would be unwise to discard this possibility. In an interview regarding this topic after the elections, Correa responded by threatening that, “if these mediocre members of the partyocracy and press keep bothering me, I’ll run for re-election so these sufferers suffer” ("Rafael Correa: 'si siguen molestando me lanzo a la reelección'" 2013). By then, it will be clearer if the short-term economic gains are indeed sustainable in the long-run.
 This surpasses Isidro Ayora who ruled as dictator for five years (1926-1931).
 The value of the bond was previously US$35, but political one-upmanship drove it to US$50. Speaking in the coastal city of Portoviejo in September 2012, presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso suggested proposed eliminating the government department of propaganda and using the recovered finances to fund this increase in the BDH (Pilco 2012). Not to be outdone, Correa responded by cutting out Lasso’s figurative feet from under him, proposing an identical increase and, as an added twist, financing the raise through further taxes on the banking sector. This raise took effect through Presidential Decree 8/2013, issued on January 2, 2013.
 Poverty is considered to include those who live below US$2.54 a day.
 In November 2012, Correa also appointed his ex-personal secretary, Gustavo Jalkh, as the new president of the Consejo de la Judicatura (Judiciary Council), the state organ charged with assigning judges across the country.
 Textually, Correa said: “si siguen molestando estos mediocres de la partidocracia y de los medios de comunicación me les lanzo a la reeleción, para que sufran los sufridores”.
Bono de Desarrollo Humano y Pensiones. 2013. (10 diciembre 2012). Trámites Ecuador 2012 [cited 28 febrero 2013 2013]. Available from http://tramitesecuador.com/ministerio-de-inclusion-economica-y-social-mies/bono-de-desarrollo-humano/.
"Counting on Chinese credit." 2012. Latin American Regional Report (LARR), Febrero 2012, 12.
"Ecuador gambles on WikiLeaks founder Assange." 2012. Washington Post, 20/08/2012.
INEC. P.I.B. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censo (INEC) 2013 [cited 28 febrero 2013. Available from http://www.ecuadorencifras.com/cifras-inec/pib.html#tpi=371.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S. 1988. Economics and Elections: The Major Western Democracies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Marreiro, Flávia. 2012. "Equador avaliará eventual pedido de asilo de governo Assad, diz Rafael Correa." Folha de São Paulo, 10/12/2012.
"Media battle is part of wider war." 2012. Latin American Regional Report (LARR), Febrero 2012, 10-1.
"Meting out punishment." 2012. Latin American Regional Report (LARR), Abril 2012, 7.
Pilco, Carolina. 2012. "Guillermo Lasso ofreció aumentar el bono a USD 50." El Comercio, 29/09/2012.
Powell, G. Bingham, Jr., and Guy D. Whitten. 1993. "A Cross-National Analysis of Economic Voting: Taking Account of the Political Context." American Journal of Political Science 37 (2):391-414.
"Rafael Correa: 'si siguen molestando me lanzo a la reelección'." 2013. La Hora, 23 febrero 2013.
"Ricardo Patiño anuncia que Ecuador concede el asilo a Julian Assange." 2012. El Comercio, 16/08/2012.
"Yasuní and the future of Ecuadorean oil." 2013. Latin American Weekly Report (LAWR), 31 enero 2013, 5.
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