W hen Rafael Correa was first elected as Ecuadorian president 10 years ago, he joined the Kirchners in Argentina, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia as part of Latin America’s ‘pink tide’. Starting with new pro-market governments in Brazil and Argentina, that tide is now turning. Will Ecuador be the next country to reject a decade-long leftist experiment and embrace conservatism?
A presidential election which will see Mr. Correa’s time in office come to an end is on a knife edge. With most first-round votes counted, Lenin Moreno, the president’s hand-picked candidate, was on 39%, just shy of the 40% needed to avoid a runoff. Guillermo Lasso, a former banker steeped in the economic philosophy of Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek, was back on 28%, but will receive the endorsement of Cynthia Viteri, who gained 16%, if he makes the second round on April 2.
Like many leaders who surfed the pink tide, Mr. Correa has enjoyed high popularity but also endured severe bouts of controversy. His detractors label the outgoing president a populist and compare him to Mr. Chávez, accusing him of having a “thin skin” and of suppressing the Ecuadorian media. His supporters reject this and point out that whereas the Venezuelan leader was a career soldier, Mr. Correa is a US-trained economist who has prioritised investment in public education throughout his mandate.
While oil prices were high, he ploughed billions of dollars into cutting poverty. As a proportion of GDP, government spending more than doubled from 2006 to 2013. But the elections could not have arrived at a worse time for Mr. Correa’s party, the PAIS Alliance. The global oil slump led to a recession last year. On top of that, Brazilian construction company Odebrecht recently admitted to paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Ecuadorean officials.
“On the whole, the challenge is very complex,” Pablo Lucio Paredes, an Ecuadorian economic analyst, told The World Weekly. Whoever wins will inherit a shrinking economy with declining exports and poor private investment, he said.
Mr. Lasso has lashed out at the current government and promised to roll back some of its signature policies, including the asylum offered to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the embassy in London. Mr. Correa has not ruled out a comeback if the opposition wins but for now his legacy rests in Mr. Moreno’s hands.