Last Sunday, Ecuador elected Rafael Correa to a third term. The election wasn’t even close, as Correa finished with 56% of the total vote, 33% more than the runner-up, making him the first Ecuadoran president to avoid a runoff in consecutive elections. As Greg Weeks points out, Correa’s re-election was also a “boring” re-election, and for a country that’s witnessed plenty of tumult in electoral presidential politics in recent decades, that’s a good thing. Certainly, while much of the US media’s portrayal of him relies on problematic terms and descriptors, there are certainly legitimate criticisms of Correa in areas like indigenous rights and freedom of the press. Yet if Correa finishes his third (and allegedly final) term, he will be the longest-serving president in Ecuador’s history.
While anything could change in the next four years, there seems to be one subtle indicator that, at least for now, Correa may be sincere in his expression to leave office after this term. Unlike Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez (to whom Correa is often compared) Correa seems to be playing an active role in attempting to institutionalize the reforms of the “Citizens’ Revolution” that he has overseen in his first two governments, unlike Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, to whom Correa is often compared. While the country is still heavily dependent on oil revenues to provide the socioeconomic reforms that have improved the lives of many Ecuadorans, his stated goal of diversifying government revenue through tariffs seems to suggest a possible path to continue generating revenue for social programs even in the (inevitable) even that oil prices drop. Likewise, improving infrastructure, increasing autonomy in energy production, and restricting imports while still encouraging private capital development within Ecuador are all a part of Correa’s apparent agenda to ensure that the reforms and social changes over the previous 6 years of his two terms can remain in place. Even the selection of a technocrat rather than a traditional politician as his new vice president suggests a shift to a concern with governance and institutionalization rather than of politicking and elections. Thus, in many ways, it seems that Correa is preparing Ecuador to continue and cement the social reforms begun under his presidency even after he is possibly out of office, something that his Venezuelan counterpart was slow to do, in turn ultimately reminding us that simple categorizations of Venezuela and Ecuador as part of some (falsely) monolithic “new left” really glosses over significant differences in government, governance, and style between them (and other countries in the region).