Ecuador’s elections: Who are the contenders?

christian science monitorOn Feb. 19, Ecuadoreans head to the polls for general elections to choose the president and vice president, along with all 137 seats in the country’s unicameral legislature and five representatives to the Andean Congress. An expected presidential runoff is slated for April 2. The country’s National Electoral Council said about 12.8 million of the country’s 16 million citizens will be eligible to vote this year, including some 380,000 expat voters. Voting is mandatory in Ecuador; turnout in the last general elections in 2013 was just over 80 percent.

For the first time in more than a decade, current President Rafael Correa will not be on the ballot. Although Congress did remove term limits in a December 2015 reform package, the new amendment will not go into effect until after the next president is sworn in – a concession Mr. Correa made to congressional opposition leaders in order to get the amendment passed. That said, he’s hinted several times he’d be game to return to the presidential residence. “If they keep bugging me, I’ll run in 2021 and we’ll beat them again,” he said in a year-end radio broadcast.

But the last few years of his decade in office have left his legacy in doubt. After years of high oil revenues and infrastructure expansions, the drop in barrel prices cut billions from the country’s budget. Among other measures, Correa responded by increasing taxes and government spending; per one estimate, the size of government as a percent of GDP doubled during Correa’s tenure from 21 percent to 43 percent. So, while government workers feel financially secure, the private sector and entrepreneurs face a more difficult economic environment. The International Monetary Fund projects Ecuador’s economy will contract 2.7 percent in 2017, after a 2.3 percent contraction – and 7.8 magnitude earthquake – in 2016 put the economy on its heels. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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