The Slow Death of Democracy in Ecuador

Posted on January 12, 2017 • Filed under: Ecuador, Politics

The Slow Death of Democracy in Correa’s Ecuador
BY Carlos de la Torre / Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rafael Correa, a left-leaning academic turned populist politician, has dominated Ecuadorian politics since 2007. He won three presidential elections and has consistently maintained popularity rates of over 50 percent. His movement, the Alliance for a Proud and Sovereign Homeland, controls the legislature. The judiciary and all institutions of horizontal accountability are in the hands of his lieutenants. At the time of this writing, Ecuador’s National Assembly, as the congress was renamed, is modifying Ecuador’s 20th constitution, enacted during Correa’s term, to allow for his permanent re-election.

According to Correa, his regime is promoting a better democracy that is advancing social justice. He argues that his legitimacy lies in having won free and open elections. His critics contend that the extra-judicial use of presidential power, the erosion of horizontal accountability by other branches of government and the restriction of the independent press have led to what political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell has characterized as the slow death of democracy and its displacement by authoritarianism. According to critics, a new constitutional order has concentrated power in the hands of the president, and majoritarian mobilization led by a charismatic leader has taken precedence over the checks and balances and respect for basic civil rights essential to liberal democracy.


Correa brought stability to one of the most unruly nations of the Americas. Between 1997 and 2005, three elected presidents—Abdala Bucaram, Jamil Mahuad and Lucio Gutierrez—were ousted through congressional coups, severely undermining the institutions of Ecuador’s democracy: Bucaram in 1997 by a simple majority vote in Congress on charges of mental incapacity to govern, without any medical proof of his insanity; Mahuad and Gutierrez in 2000 and 2005 respectively, after Congress ruled they had “abandoned power,” when in fact each was still sitting in the presidential palace at the time of the rulings.

At the heart of Ecuador’s unstable politics was an electoral system that created incentives for party fragmentation and personalized rule. As a result, between 1979 and 2006, at least nine political parties had representatives in Congress. With few restrictions on inscribing new electoral movements, presidential candidates proliferated. When Correa was elected in 2006, 13 presidential candidates ran for office, the highest number since Ecuador’s transition to civilian rule in 1979.
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