This paper will seek to explain why Ecuador is not as stable democratically as many other South American countries. It will investigate the different political mechanisms of the country and its volatile history in order to explain why it is not a stronger democracy. Through analysis of constitutional change, the presidential ‘revolving door’, the party system, and other weak points in their democratic system I will try to gain a greater understanding of how Ecuador got to be so politically volatile.
Ecuador has been a country riddled with constitutional violations, military coups, ever changing presidents, and personal politics. This is a possible explanation for the countries low democratic development. With the leadership of the country ever changing and the people/military quick to oust any president who they doubt it is no wonder a stronger democratic system never got the opportunity to flourish. Between 1830 and now only 20 elected presidents have completed their terms in office without being ousted by the military or forced to resign by protests.
Along with this many of the presidents did not have the countries interest at heart but rather sought personal gain through political channels. In the process the country went through 21 different constitutions both from presidents and military leaders. The military in Ecuador was very quick to depose any one they perceived as a threat, overthrowing the government 13 times in the 20th century alone. The presidential ‘revolving door’ of Ecuador is best characterized by the man Velasco Ibarra. Ibarra won the presidency five separate times.
He is a great example due to his politics in office and the manners in which he was removed from the presidency. The first time that Ibarra won the presidential office, in 1932, he was removed from power 11 months later, by the military, for attempting to close congress, jailing his opposition and attempting to establish himself as a dictator of the country. The second time he occupied the presidency was following the war with peru in 1941, he relied on empty promises and an unsuccessful war to gain the support of the people and take power.
When the public saw just how empty his promises were he was again removed by the military. In the 1950’s Ecuador began exporting bananas and with their new economic boost the country saw a period of political tranquility with 12 years of successful presidential transitions. Velasco Ibarra is a politician emblematic of this time. He used the countries new found wealth to enact major public works programs that included the construction of roads, bridges, schools and much more, making him very popular amongst the people of Ecuador.
Unfortunately for Ibarra, when the income from banana exports dropped slightly in the 1960’s people quickly lost faith and Ibarra quickly lost support. Due to widespread protesting the military was forced to step in and remove him from office yet again. This speaks a lot to the mindset of many Ecuadorians during this time. With the countries economic status constantly in limbo many people did not give presidents the chance to succeed. At the first site of problems the people would protest and force the president to resign or the military to step in.
In 1968 Ibarra came to power for the last time. Once again he lost public support when revenue losses wouldn’t allow him to fulfill promises he had made in his campaign. This time however he garnered support from the military claiming he needed dictatorial powers in order to save the country. Although he was at times regarded as a populist Ibarra never received the kind of support he needed from the working classes and quickly became disliked. In 1972 the military lost faith in Ibarra and worried he would miss use the income from newly found oil reserves and ousted him for the last time.
Ibarra is a great example of the presidency in Ecuador, with his mix of personal politics, empty promises and quick removal from office he demonstrates a lot of problems with the election and perception of presidents there. Another clear trend in Ecuadorian politics is the involvement of the military in leading the country. The military seized control of the government numerous times since it’s independence in 1830. Early on in the country all of the leaders were military men, later on the military would also lead using groups of advisors.
In 1925 the “League of Young Officers” took control of the country and tried to lead as a group. This however was unsuccessful and power quickly was given to Isidro Ayora, one of the “League” members. At times the military would just get rid of leaders they didn’t approve of and other times they would take full control of the government. One such time came in 1925 when the military junta lead the country for an extended period of time. During this time they attempted many reforms within the country attempting to make it more economically viable.
Due to increased tariffs on imports there was mass protests in the costal cities showing that the economic elites were not willing to stand idly by while the military ran the country their way. In 1965 the military left office due to frustrations with unsupportive people and fear that they would lose legitimacy and support if they remained in power. The military took power again however in 1972 after ousting Velasco Ibarra for the final time and held power for the next seven years. This constant intervening from the military meant that the democratic system rarely got the opportunity to take root.
Currently the political ‘revolving door’ of the presidency seams to have stopped in Ecuador. The election of Rafael Correa in 2006 appears to have some what stabilized the position. Correa is viewed as a populist leader and has great re pour with the citizens. He has been very active as president, cutting ties with the United states and creating a new more socialist constitution that also allowed him to stay in power for longer. It is unclear whether or not this new found stability will last but Correa has shown himself to be a very powerful leader of Ecuador commanding lots of support from the people.
Ecuador is a country with an abundance of opportunity but is very much lacking in cooperation, stable political institutions, and continuity within its political system. A lot of these problems are due to the compounding effects of poor executive survival provisions, counter-productive electoral rules, and an ineffective party system. Survival provisions are very important to stabilizing and maintaining a democratic system in countries. This has been one of the larger problems holding back a strong democracy in Ecuador. Shared survival provisions often encourage cooperation between the executive branch and the legislature.
By linking the two branches prospective success and failure to some extent they align interests between different branches of the government and generates disincentives for defecting from the current administration for personal gain. On the other hand separate survival systems are set up in a way that the president and the legislature are elected for separate fixed terms and one branch has nothing to loose and everything to gain by defecting in some way and working towards their own interests rather than the countries as a whole. Shared survival provisions align continuation in office with inter-governmental negotiation and compromise.
This creates a system in which groups don’t fracture off as much due to personal interest or gain. The shared survival system makes the branches of the government reliant on each other for continued control of leadership thus incentivizing groups to work out conflicts and to cooperate within the government in order to rise within the ranks of the system. In the separate survival system non-cooperation is a cheap, safe option that many politicians are inclined to take. In this system aligning yourself with the executive office is a risky move with high-cost and low-reward.
Since the executive office reaps the majority of the spoils of success in this system they control the rewards and only tend to doll them out to their integral members. Often times members of a coalition do not receive the same political rewards because they aren’t part of the governing party, therefore they gain little from supporting the executive branch. On the flip side often times they do receive punishment for aligning themselves with an unpopular/unsuccessful president. This damages their political prospects with both the majority of the country and their personal constituents.
This is clearly a system where the only logical choice is to defect from the coalition quickly before anything can be accomplished. Obviously, this system leads to a non-cooperative government in which many factions undercut each others authority and power, leading to very few successes, none of which are long term. Ecuador illustrate just how much separate survival provisions can hinder cooperation, create/strengthen divisions and create a political ‘revolving door’ in which ruling governments change faster then the seasons with each successive government selling out the last.
As Susan Alberts puts it “The disincentives to cooperate generated by separate survival helped sustain an equilibrium characterized by conflict, low quality governance, chronic instability, and constitutional violations”. The electoral rules in Ecuador also greatly contribute to the lack of success in presidentialism and democratization. The three most volatile electoral rules when it comes to cooperation and success in democracy in Ecuador have been mid term elections, a ban on immediate re-election of legislators, and majority run-off elections for president.
Although two of these have been done away with, mid term elections and the ban on immediate re-election of legislators, they have definitively contributed to a system with little to no political continuity or cooperation, and a weak democracy with ever changing presidents and leading parties. Mid-term elections for congress greatly contributed to a de-centralized system that was fragmented and uncooperative. The elections often times weakened the presidents power by reducing his parties number of seats in the legislature mid term.
Since this occurred in the middle of the presidents time in office it was difficult to sustain and/or create coalitions, and even if done there is not enough time afterwords to utilize these coalitions to create anything. The mid term elections also bring many ‘newcomers’ to congress who are not as experienced and have less ties to those who have been there longer. This makes it even more difficult for the president to form coalitions that stay together. Under this ever shifting landscape very few presidents had enough power or opportunity to enact any policies let alone the ones that could improve and stabilize the country.
Along these same lines the ban on immediate re-election of congress members created barriers to cooperation, accountability and party discipline. One of the largest factors holding members of the legislature beholden to their constituents is the possibility of re-election, without it prospective and retrospective judgement of the candidates is less effective. This electoral rule also undermined other policies that would normally be positive in a democratic system, for instance, closed party lists.
Because of this party members no longer had incentive to remain tied to party politics as there immediate political prospects were non existent creating further fractures. The ban on immediate re-election also created much more short term goals for members of the congress since long term improvements are costly and ineffective. This short term horizon discouraged incentives to compromise and negotiate policies making the legislative branch even more ineffective. Two year terms are too short for politicians to develop, gain support, and enact more important long term policies.
Also it was difficult for any elected official to spend enough time in office to develop the political expertise necessary to accomplish anything in the system before they were forced to leave. It also drastically lowered the number of officials running for re-election when they could, most of them lost all momentum and support by the time they were eligible to run for election again. The combination of mid term elections every two years and the re-election ban created a system in which very few good policies are proposed or passed.
Without any incentive to work for a better Ecuador many legislative officials did very little good in office and furthermore only had reason to work for there own personal gain through short term normally “pork barrel” politics. This served to severely handicap the development of the Ecuadorian democratic system. Another obstacle faced by the democratic development of Ecuador is their run-off electoral system. Where in some cases this can be a positive electoral policy, combined with the previous issues it served to further hinder the democratization of Ecuador.
In Ecuador it hinders democratic development by encouraging a larger array of parties that can serve to pluralize the system and also make it so that no party can truly have a majority. With so many parties there is a need for coalitions in order to govern but as shown earlier in this paper there is little incentive for the legislative branch to form these coalitions. The run-off system creates the opportunity for a long shot candidate to win with little consensus amongst the other parties. Since these candidates have an opportunity to win with even a low level of support many political parties fracture and can do so and still be successful.
This lead to Ecuador having numerous presidential candidates for every election. According to Mainwaring and Scully “The average number of presidential candidates was five between 1979–1988; 12 in 1992; and 13 in 2006”. The combination of this run-off system and separate survival provisions created a need to form coalitions but little incentive to maintain them further undermining a stable democracy. A strong party system is integral to a strong democracy, the more effective parties are in representation and conflict management the stronger they will be.
Strong parties lead to greater democratic legitimacy and a higher ability to enact positive policies. This in-turn creates a system in which cooperation has higher pay-offs and lower costs to individuals political careers. Strong parties also allow voters to be more connected to their officials and hold them more responsible for their actions in office. When a party is constantly shifting and fracturing it is harder for voters to connect to them and thus participate in the political system. Without these strong political parties the incentives of cooperation are further lowered leading to a weaker democracy.
The fragmentation of political parties in Ecuador is extreme, having the second highest number of effective political parties in the region (after Brazil). Combined with the separate survival system this fragmentation of the parties is another barrier to the coalitions necessary for any party to have some semblance of legitimacy and efficacy. These parties have little power and thus fail to offer protection to their members, further decreasing the odds of the political cooperation necessary in the established system. With little compromise between political groups there is no forward movement creating a stagnant democracy.
In short, the problems with the electoral rules, survival provisions and the fragmentation of the party system has lead to a weak stagnant democracy in which little can be accomplished and elected officials are inexperienced. Many face constant opposition when trying to enact even the smallest amount of change. This hinders development in not just democratization but also in economics and social rights. It creates a government with very little power that is ill-equipped to handle any crisis that evolve, and that is rampant with constitutional violations personal-gain politics.
Ecuador as a country has seen lots of political turmoil since its independence from Gran Colombia in 1830. It is clear that much of this volatility is due to insecure leadership, a people who are quick to oust presidents, and a military that is constantly involving itself in the political mess. It is also evident that the current survival provisions, counter productive electoral rules and fragmented party system have greatly added to the political problems of the country. With all of these barriers to democratic development it is no wonder that the country is and has been on insecure political footing for some time.
What is not clear is when how and if these problems are going to be overcome, and how strong the Ecuadorian democracy will come to be. Bibliography Alberts, Susan. “Why Play by the Rules? Constitutionalism and Democratic Institutionalization in Ecuador and Uruguay. ” Democratization 15. 5 (2008): 849-69. Araujo, Maria Caridad, et al. “Political Institutions, Policymaking Processes, and Policy Outcomes in Ecuador. ” Washington, DC: Latin American Research Network, Inter-American Development Bank (2004). Acosta, J. Andres Mejia. Ghost Coalitions: Economic Reforms, Fragmented Legislatures and Informal Institutions in Ecuador (1979-2002).
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