Election reflections: Ecuador and Bolivia

A politician who keeps his word? Who would’ve thought! But after a whole decade as Ecuador’s head of state, Rafael Correa is stepping down. Like, actually. Unlike his buddy Evo Morales, who felt a fourth term to be far too tempting to give up that he tried to change the constitution to make it legal for him to continue as president.

All About Evo
An Evo Morales matrushka doll alongside Putin dolls, at a Russian souvenir store (there were also Chávez and Obama ones).
Correa’s chosen heir, Lenin* Moreno, is a paraplegic and a champion for the rights of the disabled. In fact, until returning recently to Ecuador to run for president, he had lived and worked in Europe as the UN special envoy on disability and accessibility.

The Ecuadorian ballot was on Sunday and at the time of writing the results aren’t in yet. Exit polls all put Moreno ahead – but by varying margins of between 36 and 43 percent. He needs a total of 40 percent of all votes, and a clear 10 percent more than his second-place rival, to win the presidency in the first round.

Said rival is Guillermo Lasso, a mega rich ex-banker. Ideologically on the opposite end of the spectrum from the “twenty-first century socialism” of Correa’s Alianza PAIS party, Lasso’s Creo SUMA is about economic liberalisation and no longer giving asylum to Julian Assange.

Lasso came second last time, back in February 2013. He’s done better in 2017 and is projected to win between 26 and 31 percent of the vote.

It seems likely, then, that there will be a Round 2.

Reports suggest it’s been a fairly subdued campaign. But I think that’s a relative diagnosis. Despite the lack of democracy sausages, Ecuadorian election campaigns are arguably more fun than Australian ones.

There are more rallies of the faithful, more posing with indigenous people, more political graffiti. The café I worked at was right on San Sebastián plaza, where on several occasions concerts were staged for different candidates. It was the kind of thing you’d attend even if you didn’t care about politics.

That said, Bolivian elections are more interesting for two key notable features: Pedestrian Day (día del peatón) and the Dry Law (ley seca).

Elections are always held on a Sunday (not Saturday, as in Australia) and on Election Day you’re not allowed to drive and there is no public transport. You need a special permit to operate a taxi or use your car, and not many of these are issued.

It’s remarkable how much quieter the city is when you take motorised vehicles out of the equation. Kids are free to cycle and scooter through the streets unaccompanied. Parents roll their prams down the centre of the avenue. You saunter over to your local voting booth and use your thumb to cast your vote in ink.

2014-10-12 La Paz 05-1.jpg

It’s all a bit old school, with instructions written in permanent marker on butcher’s paper.

2014-10-12-la-paz-23-1

The electoral assistants have to show you both sides of the ballot paper to show you are not getting a rigged copy.2014-10-12-la-paz-31-1

So accompanying my housemate to vote was a fun cultural experience. I even spotted a politician at that polling station.

2014-10-12 La Paz 29-1.jpg

And I reckon a car-free day every now and then is a brilliant idea.

The Dry Law, on the other hand, can be quite inconvenient. Sometimes you just need a beer, y’know?

Not only can you not purchase or consume alcohol on Election Day, but ban lasts from the Friday night of that weekend, right up until midday on Monday. The idea is that voting is serious business so you’d better be sober.

The penalty is between $100 and $1000 – presumably lower for being caught drinking and higher for selling alcohol.

Of course, it just means that fun-loving twenty and thirtysomethings stock up beforehand and have massive secret parties. It makes them feel badass and revolutionary. I think it sounds like the doubly hipster hybrid of a speakeasy and pop-up.

And … that’s all I got.

If you want to know more about the Ecuadorian elections, my sources for this article were my memory and www.elcomercio.com/tag/elecciones-2017 as well as http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2017/02/19/america/1487517563_758291.html (in Spanish) and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39020912 (in English).


*Fun fact: Ecuadorians love naming their boys after famous Russians – think Lenin, Vladimir, Boris, Stalin. They equally love naming their male children after American presidents Franklin, Jefferson and Washington. I even know a guy called Hoover (saludos, if you’re reading this, buddy!).

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