Ecuador_s President may seek ultimate job security: indefinite reelection

correaFranklin D. Roosevelt had it, so did Venezuela_s Hugo Ch__vez and so does Nicaragua_s Daniel Ortega. Could Ecuador_s Rafael Correa be the next president to win the right to consecutive and indefinite reelection?

That_s the question the country_s constitutional court is debating, and the answer could radically change the future of this Andean nation of 16 million.

After years of vowing that he wouldn_t seek office when his term ends in 2017, Correa recently announced that his Alianza Pa__s political party would push for a constitutional amendment that would open the gates for the charismatic socialist to keep his job permanently.

Stung by recent municipal elections where his party lost key cities, including the capital, Correa said the change is needed to preserve the advances of his _Citizens_ Revolution._

_My sincere position was always against reelection,_ he told the country recently, _but after deep reflection, and knowing that sometimes our choices are between the lesser of two evils, I_ve decided to support this initiative._

For his critics, permanent reelection is simply one more step in the country_s slow march toward Venezuelan-style 21st Century Socialism with Correa at the helm.

_Democracy is based fundamentally on alternating power,_ former President Lucio Gutierrez, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2005, told the Miami Herald. _When power becomes eternal so does corruption, because there_s no accountability, no respect for human rights and no respect for those who are out of power._

Scrapping term limits is one of 17 reforms that Alianza Pa__s submitted to the court, which has until August to decide if the changes can be approved by congress or require a national referendum.

Correa wants the changes to go through the legislature, where his party can guarantee him the two-thirds majority needed to pass the amendment, and most analysts believe the administration-friendly court will grant him his wish.

A recent survey of 2,200 people by Cedatos polling firm found that 61 percent believe a referendum should be required. If the amendment goes through congress, 53 percent of those surveyed said they would oppose its passage and 39 percent would be in favor of opening the doors to permanent reelection.

Correa has tried to make the case that the congress represents the true will of the voters, said Cedatos Vice President Carlos C__rdova, _but the people are very clear about what they consider _the will of the nation_ and that_s a referendum._

Ecuador has had a volatile relationship with its leaders. From 1997 until Correa took office in 2007, the country churned through seven presidents _ some of them lasting just days. Three of them were forcibly ousted.

But Correa_s arrival changed that. Through a mix of charisma, and pumping billions of oil wealth into public works _ including some of the region_s best highways, schools and hospitals _ Correa has remained a beloved figure. He won reelection in 2013 with a landslide 58 percent and has approval ratings near 60 percent.

His critics say his popularity comes at the expense of bankrupting the country and destroying democratic institutions. But many here aren_t ready to see him go.

_For me, he_s the best president we_ve ever had because he really cares about the poor, and we need to keep him,_ said Vladimir Lopez, a 40-year-old security guard, who was soaking up the sun in front of the white-washed Carondolet presidential palace.

Lopez said he wasn_t worried that the country might be saddled with Correa forever.

_If he isn_t doing his job well, we will get rid of him,_ he said.

At least five countries in the Americas _ Chile, Panama and Uruguay among them _ allow indefinite reelection after a president is out of office for at least one or two terms.

The United States had continuous reelection (Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times) until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951.

But only Nicaragua and Venezuela allow their presidents to run for office continuously and indefinitely. In Both cases, leaders there have been accused of amassing power, squashing civil liberties and becoming entrenched. Venezuela_s Hugo Ch__vez was in power for almost 15 years until he died in office in 2013.

Gutierrez and others say that Correa has already subverted the courts, the National Electoral Council (CNE) and other government entities that might guarantee free elections. He_s also gone after the press, cowing the media with multi-million dollar fines. This week, Hoy newspaper suspended its print edition citing government harassment that it blamed for scaring off advertisers.

_It_s like playing a soccer match where they make the rules, change them halfway through the game and then expel our players,_ Gutierrez said. _It creates an omnipotent power that becomes almost impossible to defeat democratically at the polls._

Juan Paz y Mi__o, a historian and political analyst at Ecuador_s Catholic University in Quito, said any variation on reelection _ whether it_s continuous or with alternating terms _ has its _problems and benefits._

_Indefinite reelection is equally democratic as any other system,_ he said. While there may be a risk of the incumbent amassing power _it also guarantees that a successful political project can stay in power._

_If the people want to reelect their president, why not let them?_ he asked.

For now, Correa is playing his cards close to the chest. While he_s backing the reform, he claims to be a reluctant candidate.

Reelection _should be the very last option because I believe it_s convenient for new leaders to arise,_ he told a crowd in Quito recently. _But if I_m the only option to defeat the right wing and their corrupt media outlets, then I_ll be there, friends, fulfilling my historic responsibility._


Miami Herald | BY JIM WYSS

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