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Ecuador - Political Parties

Ecuador has a staggering number of political parties, most of which had rather shallow roots and were often little more than electoral labels for their leaders. Party identification and ideology remained weak, whereas personalism remained strong. Political parties suffered from factionalism and weak organization; were often overshadowed by personalist movements. Persistent regional rivalries between Quito and Guayaquil also contributed to contentious political debates. Customary aspects of civilian politics, such as regionalism and personalism, are reflected in the proliferation of political parties.

Although Ecuador's political parties and its free and partisan press participated in a lively and contentious democratic political process, parties suffered from factionalism, weak organization, lack of mass participation, and blurred ideologies, as well as from the competing influences of populism and militarism. Analysts generally agreed that the proliferation of small parties and the need to negotiate alliances contributed significantly to political instability in the 1980s.

Middle- and upper-middle class professionals and businessmen have led Ecuador's two traditional parties, the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador—PC) and the Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical—PLR), also commonly referred to as the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal). Garcia Moreno established the PC in 1869 as a loosely structured party and gave it a rightist ideological base. The Conservative Party promoted close cooperation between church and state, a strong, centralized government, and private property. Its regional stronghold was the Sierra, particularly Quito and Cuenca (capital of Azuay Province).

The PC monopolized political power from 1860 until 1895, when the PLR seized power as the outcome of a civil war. The PC steadily lost ground thereafter. Although neither party held the presidency between 1944 and 1989, the PC supported the successful presidential candidacy of Camilo Ponce Enriquez in 1956. The PC also consistently made a strong showing in municipal and congressional elections in the 1960s.

Like the Conservatives, the Liberals were slow to develop a formal party structure. According to Osvaldo Hurtado, although the Liberal political movement had strengthened organizationally and ideologically by the 1880s, especially in Guayaquil, it still lacked a formal political party and remained factionalized into two main groups. The original "civilist" faction consisted of doctrinaire intellectuals who opposed the Conservative governments through the press and legislature. In 1884 the six-year-old radical faction of the Liberals led by Eloy Alfaro and his revolutionary montoneros (guerrillas) proclaimed itself the true Liberal Party and took up arms on the Costa against the Conservative government. After the temporary defeat of the radicals in 1887, the civilist faction again assumed the leadership of the Liberals.

The Liberal Party was formally organized as a political entity with the holding of its first assembly in Quito in July 1890. Nevertheless, party factionalism continued. In 1892 a "fusionist" faction broke away and joined the Conservatives. Liberal opposition to Conservative rule became so bitter, however, that Alfaro was able to consolidate the various factions into the Radical Liberal Party (PLR) by 1895, when it took power.

The PLR was the principal ruling party between 1895 and 1944, although the coup ofJuly 9, 1925, marked the beginning of a gradual decline in the two-party structure and in Liberal hegemony. Since its founding, the PLR had been strongest in the Costa, but in the 1960s it also won a significant following in Quito. Since the 1920s, the PLR's platform included anticlericalism and agrarian reform. The Radical Liberals traditionally aligned themselves with the armed forces and commercial interests. The armed forces, discredited by their association with the party, distanced themselves after 1942, but trade and banking interests continued to finance the PLR.

Like the PC, the PLR garnered nearly a third of the vote in congressional elections in the decades prior to 1972. The traditional parties depended to a considerable extent on the largess of wealthy individuals or economic interest groups. It was customary, moreover, for most donors to expect large returns on their investment, and most of them assumed the role ofpatron (patron) toward the dependent party leaders, who were expected to assume a properly subservient attitude. Corruption was widely assumed to be an institutionalized attribute of partisan activities, and party platforms enjoyed little credibility.

The two-party structure began to decline in the early twentieth century as leftist parties emerged and the country experienced a quarter-century of political instability. Ecuador had at least four communist and socialist parties. The oldest was the Ecuadorian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Ecuatoriano—PSE), founded in 1925 as a section of the Communist International. Consisting of a small group of intellectuals, the PSE was influential only through coalitions either with groups on the left, including the Communists, or more often, with the PLR. The PSE was one of the few parties that was neither regionally based nor personalist in character. Although it depended on wealthy groups and individuals for support, the PSE played a major role in formulating social welfare legislation.

The PSE gave birth to both the Moscow-oriented Ecuadorian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Ecuatoriano—PCE), which broke away in 1928, and the pro-Cuban Revolutionary Socialist Party of Ecuador (Partido Socialista Revolucionario del Ecuador — PSRE), which broke away in 1962. The PCE, a legal party, generally has concentrated on enhancing its position within organized labor, student organizations, and the educational bureaucracy; it had little voter appeal. By the 1970s, the PSRE had become the strongest advocate of revolution in the country. The PSRE and PCE, along with Christian leftists and Maoists, joined in 1977 to form a Moscow-line leftist front called the Broad Left Front (Frente Amplio de la Izquierda—FADI). Another PCE splinter group, the pro-Chinese Communist Party of Ecuador—Marxist-Leninist (Partido Comunista del Ecuador—Marxista-Leninista—PCE-ML) was formed in 1972.

Several noncommunist and Christian Democratic parties also emerged in the twentieth century. The Ecuadorian Nationalist Revolutionary Action (Accion Revolucionaria Nacionalista Ecuatoriana—ARNE), founded in 1942, was a highly nationalistic, anticommunist, quasi-fascist group with its strongest appeal among youths in the Sierra. The center-right Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano—PSC) was established in 1951 and became the ruling party when Febres Cordero assumed the presidency in 1984. The Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrata Cristiano—PDC), founded in 1964, affiliated with the International Christian Democratic Association. Its center-left platform attracted a small but growing following among workers, students, and young professionals.

The 1967 constitution was the first to introduce provisions for political parties. The 1979 Constitution attempts to strengthen the party-based system by giving parties state protection and financial assistance. For a party to receive state financial aid, it must have obtained at least 5 percent of the votes in elections for national and provincial deputies, councillors, and council members. In these elections, the parties are prohibited from forming alliances; each party is obliged to run its own candidates. Alliances are allowed, however, in elections for president and vice president, mayors, and prefects.

The 1967 Constitution apportioned state financial aid to legally recognized parties as follows: 60 percent in equal parts to each party and the remaining 40 percent according to the votes obtained in the last national elections. Although the parties also receive contributions from their affiliates, they may not receive, directly or indirectly, financial donations from individuals or groups that have contracts with the state or from companies, institutions, or foreign states.

Article 37, which was widely debated prior to the holding of a popular referendum in June 1986, gives legally recognized parties a type of monopoly because only they can run candidates in an election. Whereas the Constitution gives any citizen the right to be elected, Article 37 prohibits a citizen from running as an independent candidate and requires candidates to be affiliated with a political party.

The 2008 constitution mandated that political organizations register as a requirement for eligibility in the 2013 general elections, although the process drew controversy. In preparation for the 2014 local elections, the registry of local organizations expanded. As of 2015, a total of 144 political organizations were legally recognized — 10 at the national level and 134 at the local level.

Ecuador’s political parties have historically been small, loose organizations that depend more on populist, often charismatic, leaders to retain support on programs and ideology. Frequent splits have produced great factionalism. Modern political parties include:

  • Alianza PAIS movement [Rafael Vicente CORREA Delgado]
  • Avanza Party or AVANZA [Ramiro GONZALEZ]
  • Creating Opportunities Movement or CREO [Guillermo LASSO]
  • Institutional Renewal and National Action Party or PRIAN [Alvaro NOBOA]
  • Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement or MUPP [Rafael ANTUNI]
  • Patriotic Society Party or PSP [Lucio GUTIERREZ Borbua]
  • Popular Democracy Movement or MPD [Luis VILLACIS]
  • Roldosist Party or PRE
  • Social Christian Party or PSC [Pascual DEL CIOPPO]
  • Socialist Party [Fabian SOLANO]
  • Society United for More Action or SUMA [Mauricio RODAS]
  • Warrior's Spirit Movement [Jaime NEBOT]

The Democratic Left was strong during the period 1979-1988, winning pluralities in all but one legislative election, but never achieving a majority. Democratic Left support was largely concentrated in the mountainous region (sierra). More recently, the Social Christian Party (PSC), based on the coast, was the largest party in five Congresses between 1990 and 2002, with a high of 34% of the seats in 1994. In the Congress elected in 2006, which was suspended by the Constituent Assembly in November 2007, the Institutional Renewal and National Action Party (PRIAN, another coastal party), had a plurality with 28% of seats, followed by former president Lucio Gutierrez' Patriotic Society Party (PSP) with 23%.

The Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance (Alianza PAIS - play on words, as "pais" means country or nation), is the dominant national political force in Ecuador. PAIS is a diverse organization. Some PAIS members believe in democratic principles, while others are more authoritarian and extreme. Formed in 2005 by four groups (Citizen Initiative, National Democratic Action, Alfarista Bolivarian Alliance Movement, and Jubilee 2000), over time PAIS brought into the fold a large number of other political and social organizations.

PAIS's political feat in the September 2008 Constituent Assembly elections was to capture large numbers of votes not only in one region or in the most populated areas, but throughout the entire country, winning seats in all but one province. PAIS is the only political organization with national representation since 1895.

On April 26, 2009, national elections were held in Ecuador with President Correa winning 52% of the vote, 24 points ahead of the next closest presidential candidate. As President Correa achieved greater than 40% of the presidential vote with a margin of victory greater than 10%, no run-off vote was necessary. Additionally, President Correa’s Alianza Pais party (“APP”) won 61 of the 124 seats within the country’s new National Assembly, with the next closest party (P. Sociedad Patriotico (“PSP”)) winning 22 seats. The APP had been able to obtain a majority (of 63 or more) through strategic alliances with one or more of the other Ecuador political parties. The PSP are on record as endorsing mining in Ecuador.

President Correa's Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement, which dominated Ecuador's Constituent Assembly, remained the strongest political organization that the country has seen since returning to democracy in 1979. The political dominance of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland (PAIS) movement, which controls 62% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly, has no precedent in the traditionally fragmented Ecuadorian party system since the return to democracy in 1979. In the 11 legislatures elected since then, a single party never controlled more than 43% of the seats. -- a record set by the Democratic Left (ID) in 1988.

Ecuadorian opposition parties struggled to come up with a strategy to confront Correa at the polls. Their strategy to work together and focus on pocketbook issues appeared to be the best approach, though the personal nature of Ecuador's political parties complicates matters greatly.

Electoral laws require political parties to register with the National Electoral Council (CNE). In order to receive authorization to participate in elections, parties and movements need to show the support of at least 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls by collecting voters’ signatures. The law requires registered parties to obtain minimum levels of voter support to maintain registration. Voters are restricted to registering with only one political group.

On July 3, the media reported that the CNE eliminated four political parties: Institutional Renewal Party of National Action, Ecuadorian Roldosist Party, Democratic People’s Movement, and Ruptura. The CNE announced that these four parties did not meet the requirements set by the electoral democracy code regarding the number of votes they needed to secure in two consecutive elections. Although representatives from the affected parties appealed before the CNE, on August 4, the electoral council upheld its decision to eliminate them. The CNE did not authorize several nationwide parties to participate in the 2013 elections due to irregularities with the signatures submitted for their registration. On August 13, the media reported the CNE was also analyzing whether 127 local political parties complied with requirements set by the democracy code to maintain their existence.



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