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Apr 21, 2014 | 09:14 GMT

5 mins read

Ecuador's Correa Seeks Another Presidential Term

Ecuador's Correa Is Seeking Another Presidential Term
(RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Ecuador's ruling coalition, Alianza Pais, has decided to pursue a third term for Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa without holding a public referendum on the issue, according to media reports. The move will require constitutional reform, which can be done in one of two ways, and if Correa chooses the course of action he is expected to, he will need to begin within the next few months so that a bill may be presented to the parliament by October. With that process complete, there would be few legal obstacles to Correa's re-election. He is popular with voters because of his oil-funded social spending and subsidies, and the opposition has few means to stop him.

Although Correa is barely a year into his second presidential term, he and other members of Alianza Pais have been openly discussing the possibility of a third term for nearly two months. The president is limited to two terms in office under the Ecuadorian Constitution. One lawmaker from the coalition said Feb. 28 that he would present a constitutional reform bill allowing Correa to run for president again in three years. The next day, Correa said he would reconsider his May 2013 decision not to run for president again. Correa has previously passed constitutional reforms to extend his term. If media reports are true, then the coalition has already decided to seek a third term, though it will not officially announce its decision until May 1, when it holds its national convention.

Paths for Constitutional Reform

In order to seek a third term, Correa would need to modify two articles of the Ecuadorian Constitution, one concerning term limits for all popularly elected officials and the other limiting the president's tenure to two consecutive terms.

Alianza Pais has two options for constitutional amendment: legislative approval or public referendum. Despite his roughly 60 percent approval rating, Correa has a few reasons to be wary of putting re-election up to the public. A December poll showed that 58 percent of the population opposed the idea of unlimited re-elections for the president. Also, the country's political opposition, which has been divided and relatively weak since Correa came to power, made some gains in the Feb. 23 municipal elections. In fact, it wrested political control of the populous municipalities of Quito and Cuenca away from Alianza Pais.

Ecuador

Ecuador

Since Correa's coalition controls the National Assembly, it would likely pursue constitutional reform by congressional vote. By law, Correa needs two-thirds of the votes in the legislature (92 votes) to pass a constitutional reform. Alianza Pais controls 100 of 137 seats and will keep that control until 2017, when legislative elections will be held concurrently with the presidential vote. A public referendum, on the other hand, requires more than 50 percent support of people voting (and at least 8 percent of the voting population must participate for the referendum to be valid).

Ecuadorian law imposes a fixed schedule on Correa's possible re-election. The constitution mandates a yearlong recess between legislative discussions on constitutional reform. As a result, the National Assembly must wait a year after the first discussion of a reform before it can be brought up for discussion again, much less approved, and constitutional reform requires two discussions in congress. Ecuadorian law also forbids electoral reforms a year before any election, which Alianza Pais has interpreted as being a year before the call to elections. The call for the 2017 elections is tentatively scheduled for October 2016, so a constitutional reform would have to be completed by October 2015. Given this timetable, Correa would need to submit the proposed amendment to the parliament by October 2014 at the latest.

The nature of a potential third term remains undefined as well. Some Alianza Pais members would like Correa to be able to run for unlimited terms beginning in 2017. Another option is constitutional reform allowing Correa to run for a single third term in 2017. Finally, there is the possibility of a nonconsecutive term, in which Correa would be allowed to run for president in 2021 instead of 2017, and someone else from the ruling party would run in the next presidential election.

Policy Continuity

With the election nearly three years away, Correa will likely focus on maintaining high political support among voters. Crucial to that effort is the country's heavy social spending, which is about 29 percent of its $84 billion gross domestic product. Since Correa came to power, Ecuador's oil production, which totaled about 550,000 barrels per day in March, and heavy tax burdens have funded the country's social programs and subsidies. Oil for loans deals with China have secured $3.9 billion in loans. This steady income enabled Ecuador to budget about $6.6 billion for subsidies in 2014. 

However, the country is unlikely to attract significant investment in its energy sector in the coming years because of prior expropriations and heavy state involvement in the energy sector. As a result, Correa is seeking capital elsewhere. On April 6, he announced that the Ecuadorian government would issue up to $700 million abroad in bonds, which would represent the country's return to international capital markets after its 2008 default.

A new Correa administration in 2017 would probably maintain the levels of social spending that have guaranteed political stability in Ecuador. The country has historically been politically volatile and prone to abrupt transitions of power. For example, coalitions of civilians and the military forcefully ousted presidents in 2000 and 2005. Ecuador has been relatively calm since Correa's election in 2006, largely because of the expansion of social programs funded by increased tax revenue and the redistribution of the country's oil wealth.

With virtually no alternate presidential contenders emerging from Alianza Pais, Correa seems to be the likely candidate for continuing Ecuador's eight-year run of government stability. If the coalition and Correa commit to running again, they will need to begin proceedings within the next few months unless they choose the riskier path of constitutional amendment by popular referendum. Once the amendments are done, there will be little in the way of Correa's re-election.

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