Campaign notes

by Marc Becker

A run-off race for the presidency of Ecuador on July 7 which was widely viewed on the left as a choice between a fascist and a crazy man led to the victory of "El Loco," Abdalá Bucaram. Analysts have pointed to his victory as evidence that Ecuadorians vote with their hearts instead of their minds.

Bucaram, a 44 year-old lawyer from the coastal city of Guayaquil, was a three-time populist candidate with the Partido Roldista Ecuadoriana. His campaign rhetoric championed the slogan "primero los pobres" which created nervousness among financial sectors of the potential policies that he could enact as president and triggered rumors of a possible military coup. Since being elected, however, he has emphasized that he plans to continue the neo-liberal economic polices of the outgoing conservative president Sixto Durán Ballen.

In the first round of elections on May 19 in which no candidate won a majority vote, conservative Social Christian Party candidate Jaime Nebot and Bucaram came in first and second place. Freddy Ehlers, a popular TV journalist who enjoyed support among many popular sectors including the national Indigenous organization CONAIE, came in third. Ehlers' campaign was plagued by a series of problems, including attacks from the right for being married to a Peruvian which many people believed made him unsuitable to be Ecuador's president given the two countries' long standing border dispute which broke out into fighting last January. In addition, Ehlers came under attack from popular sectors, who accused him of bowing into the demands of traditional political parties.

In spite of Ehlers' defeat, a variety of other local and national candidates on his Pachakutik Movement of Plurinational Unity-New Country ticket, a coalition of popular organizations, won office. Luis Macas, the president of the national Indian organization CONAIE, won a post as a national deputy and seven other Pachakutik also won positions in the National Congress as provincial deputies.

Between the first electoral round on May 19 and the second round on July 7, Bucaram and Nebot jockeyed for the votes which had gone to the Pachakutik ticket in what the press called "la caza del voto indígena." This included talk from both candidates of supporting Macas for the position of president of the National Congress. In addition, Bucaram announced his support for the formation of a new cabinet-level Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.

Although most popular organizations officially refused to support either candidate believing that both choices were equally bad, several Indigenous leaders including CONAIE vice-president Rafael Pandam and COICA president Valerio Grefa signed letters of support for Bucaram's candidacy. These were widely viewed as opportunistic moves on the part of individuals to gain positions of political power in the new government. CONAIE has officially taken a stance against creating a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, arguing that such a government office would do more harm than good.

At the same time, Macas campaigned unsuccessfully for the position of presidency of the National Congress. He attempted to organize a "Third Force" which included support from a variety of small leftist parties, but instead Fabián Alarcón of the Frente Radical Alfarista with support from the PRE was re-elected to that post.

This recent electoral process has highlighted huge and apparently broadening gaps within Ecuador's Indigenous movement. Not only are there political divisions between various Indigenous leaders and within the Pachakutik party, but there also appears to be a gap between the leadership and the grassroots. Despite CONAIE's refusal to endorse Bucaram's candidacy, he enjoyed support from many Indigenous members of rural communities.

Although Bucaram has tried hard to calm fears, his ascent to power on August 10 means that Ecuador is entering uncertain times. His colorful campaign style together with many groundless promises is a reminder of five-time president José María Velasco Ibarra who only completed one of his mandates. It appears that Ecuador has failed to learn its history lesson.