The People Of Ecuador Are Fighting To Recover Their Popular Sovereignty
Above photo: Matthias Serfling.
International solidarity will be critical to their success.
On 7 February, the citizens of Ecuador will express their constitutional right to popular sovereignty, electing a new president and National Assembly to carry the country out of its most severe crisis in a generation. Between violent crackdowns on IMF protests in 2019 to persistent threats to cancel next month’s election, Ecuador’s democracy is on the brink. The vigilance of the world will be critical to preserve it — and help restore democracy to a region in the midst of an authoritarian backslide.
Ecuador has been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than almost any country in the world. The country has recorded an excess toll of 40,000 deaths in 2020, a per capita record that is nearly double the magnitude of the United States.
The tragic consequences of Covid-19 have already damaged Ecuador’s democratic institutions: the government’s agreement with the IMF led to the dismissal of 3,680 public health workers, eroding citizens’ constitutional right to health assistance.
The concern now is that the pandemic will provide cover for further erosion. Rumors continue to circulate that Ecuador’s elections may be postponed, and the National Electoral Council (CNE) is now proposing that all representatives of political parties present negative PCR tests to be present at the polls — a stipulation that would place an insurmountable strain on the logistics of observation efforts and the personal finances of individual observers.
Tensions between Ecuador’s electoral authorities are also raising fresh fears of interference in the expression of popular sovereignty. The CNE — which is charged with administering the elections across all precincts — has come under attack by the Tribunal Contencioso Electoral (TCE), which has tried to remove four of the five leading members of the Council just days before the election.
But the conflict between the CNE and TCE is not only a question of personnel. It has also spread to the operations of the elections themselves. The two bodies have disputed the right to make final determinations on the contents of the ballot — a dispute that calls for immediate resolution now that scores of ballots have had to be reprinted following an error in the logo of the AMIGO Movement party. The destruction of these erroneous ballots to prevent ballot stuffing will be an urgent task for the CNE in order to preserve the integrity of the contest.
Ballots are, of course, the medium of democracy. The safe transport of Ecuador’s ballots and transparent transmission of their results will be the ultimate test of its democratic institutions. In Bolivia, baseless claims of ballot fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS) set the foundation of the illegal overthrow of the MAS government in November 2019, leading to street massacres and political repression for months to come. The international community — the OAS and the government of the United States, in particular — cannot fail the people of Ecuador as they did the people of Bolivia.
Scrutiny will be even more critical in the context of recent changes to the ballot counting process in Ecuador. In the 2017 elections, each precinct scanned its results and uploaded them directly to the CNE. On 7 February, however, they will be scanned and sent to a ballot receiving center, which will process the results and then send them onto the CNE. Extensive monitoring and observation at each step in this delicate process will be critical to providing confidence in the final result.
That is why the Progressive International is sending a delegation of observers to Ecuador: to ensure the integrity of its elections, and to help fortify the right to popular sovereignty. Working closely with Ecuador’s electoral authorities, the PI delegation will travel across scores of precincts on election day and monitor the process of ballot counting in the hours after they close.
The delegation of the Progressive International includes parliamentarians from five different countries, who will bring the eyes of the world to witness the elections in Ecuador. And the delegation includes technical experts and international lawyers, who will analyze the data from the electoral contests to avoid the tragic errors of the OAS in Bolivia.
The stakes of the mission are not only national. Ecuador’s elections are a tipping point for democracy across Latin America. In the Progressive International’s first mission to La Paz, we witnessed the people of Bolivia mobilize peacefully and courageously to restore democracy to their country. After years of legal warfare and economic devastation, the people of Ecuador are now demanding the recovery of their own democratic rights.
For our part, the delegation of the Progressive International hopes to witness them exercise these rights freely and fairly — and to send a powerful signal in defense of democracy everywhere.