Ecuador’s Referendum Results Shake Up Political Landscape: What’s Next for President Noboa?

2024-04-24 03:01:00

Nobody calls a referendum to lose it. It is a maxim of political science. Popular consultations are designed to invest the leader with the popular legitimacy of a result at the polls, a result against which no opponent has a reply.

And yet last Sunday Daniel Noboa, the new Ecuadorian president, Bukele’s emulator, crashed into reality.

In the two fundamental questions, the two that were in dispute and the two that concerned the President’s economic model, the population said NO. Two-thirds of Ecuadorians responded NO to international arbitration (64.9%) and NO to returning to permanent hourly work (68.8%).

The rest of the questions, all of them related to citizen security, were of an unquestionable nature and a political debate did not weigh on them. In them, President Noboa obtained the predictable support derived from the climate of insecurity that the country is experiencing. This is confirmed by the fact that questions A and F, related to the role of the armed forces in security control, were the most supported, with 75% support.

This dual result, on the one hand support for the reinforcement of Noboa’s security policies and on the other rejection of the president’s economic model, shows that a significant percentage of the Ecuadorian population is – as G. Lakoff would say – biconceptual, inclined to locate itself in different positions depending on the subjects, to escape the simplifying mold that political polarization tries to print: either with Noboa or against Noboa, or correísta or anti-correísta.

Indeed, up to 69% of Ecuadorians voted against the legalization of hourly work (an issue on which Noboa would have changed his position with respect to the electoral campaign), doubling the electoral base of Correísmo (32% in the last two first presidential rounds), while on the contrary the electoral base of Correism – at least in part – supported the reinforcement of the role of the armed forces in matters of security.

The result forces a change in President Noboa’s political strategy if he wants to be re-elected in February 2025. Just 10 months before the next presidential elections, Noboa faces a key dilemma: whether or not to maintain his economic policy.

With the popular vote against, maintaining the neoliberal economic course would pose a serious threat to his chances of re-election. On the other hand, not doing so could expose it to criticism from the major media, the main exponents of neoliberalizing pressure.

An added element also hangs over the scene. The victorious rejection of the two economic questions was led by Correism, which would emerge stronger from this dispute. This support for the Correísta theses comes just at the moment in which the government had intensified the judicial hunt to which this political movement has been subjected since Lenín Moreno came to power.

In fact, in a certain way the result of the consultation also seems to contain a blow to Noboa’s strategic turn in recent months, when he stopped seeking the collaboration of Correism in Congress to undertake a furious charge against it. This burden even led him to violate the Vienna Convention on the inviolability of diplomatic headquarters, with the episode of assault on the Mexican embassy on April 5, an episode that has led to a serious crisis of international credibility for the Andean country.

In short, with a country in a serious economic crisis aggravated by the presidential decision to increase VAT and the price of fuel, with an electricity crisis that is beginning to impact the middle classes with serious blackouts and with a climate of rejection of the economic model Denied at the polls, Noboa is betting everything on one card, to solve the problem of insecurity. If he achieves this, he will have a chance to be re-elected. If not, the question in Ecuador will once again be the same as in 2021 and 2023: will Correismo be able to crack the coalition of anti-Correistas who, without having anything in common, come together only to vote for any candidate who is not Correísta?

Sergio Pascual is a political analyst, part of the executive board of Celag Data.

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