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!
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:
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.