Ecuador’s population will say “yes” or “no” to seven questions posed by the current government in what is known is being called 'popular consultation' - a referendum spearheaded by current president Lenin Moreno of the PAIS Alliance.
Moreno, the former Vice President under President Rafael Correa's first two terms (2007-2013), who was sworn in last May after campaigning with a conciliatory tone and a promise to expand social program including medical, social and economic support to people with disabilities.
Within the first months of his presidency however, Moreno and his former allies of the Citizens’ Revolution began to splinter, and the new president quickly began to distance himself from Correa and his followers.
These tensions came to the fore when Moreno officially announced plans to call a vote on seven issues, including restructuring a government body that appoints crucial public servants and limiting the possibility of reelection for politicians, incluing the president.
The questions and the process of arriving at the consult have been politically controversial and socially polemic. Moreno says the vote will strengthen democracy and unite the country, while Correa and his supporters say Moreno is staging a 'coup' in bypassed the Constitutional Court’s necessary approval of the questions and accuse the president of betraying the leftist, social project that he was elected on.
The divisions between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps are blurred, given the clear schism in the groups that had formed part of the Citizen's Revolution.
Nowhere is this more evident that in the far-left, where two communist parties - both of whom supported the Correa government despite splitting in 2013 over 'ideological issues - are now on the streets campaigning on completely opposite sides of the looming referendum.
Splits in Ecuador Communism
The Ecuadorean Communist Party is for the consult and its spokespeople promote a ‘yes’ vote on all seven points, while the Communist Party of Ecuador is strongly against the referendum and will vote ‘no’ to all questions.
Both political parties say they formed in 1926 and are the official communist party of Ecuador.
Up until 2012 these two parties were one - the Communist Party of Ecuador. That year, the Communists Youth of Ecuador were kicked out of the Communist Party of Ecuador for reasons “that went against the Marxist-Leninists principals.”
The expelled youth formed the Ecuadorean Communist Party, aligning closely to the ruling party PAIS Aliance and even had a leading member elected as part of the PAIS ticket in 2013.
This wasn't the first split in Ecuador's communist movement.
The Marxist–Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador, or PCMLE, was founded August 1, 1964, following a split from the Communist Party of Ecuador. The PCMLE however has been openly opposed to the Citizen's Revolution government, and campaigned against Moreno in 2017.
Today, the split is less about ideological tenets than about their practical application.
For Secretary General Winston Alcaron from the Communist Party of Ecuador, the entire referendum and how it evolved it unconstitutional. He says that the Supreme Court needed to approve all questions, which it didn’t, so the consultation itself is illegal.
Alarcon and his comrades is working hard to advocate a ‘no’ vote to all questions.
He adds, “the consult is a right of the people laid out in the constitution, but this referendum doesn’t respect the constitution, it denogrates it.”
Diego Vintimilla of the Ecuadorean Communist Party has been campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote to all questions.
He says that the overall effect of the consultation is that it’s “generating democracy in Ecuador,” and insists that Sunday’s questions “strengthen the Citizens’ Revolution,” despite the open splits that the process has resulted in, including the exit of Correa and other leaders from the party they founded.
“It moves us past this difficult political time in Ecuador”, Vintimilla tells teleSUR.
The Question of the Questions
While Correa and company actively campaign for a no vote on the more controversial issues of reelection, taxes and the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control, or CPCCS, which appoints key figures in other government bodies, the remaining questions have also raised issues.
Question one looks to bar any person convicted of corruption from running for office, question four would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors, while questions five and seven would ban mining in environmentally protected areas, urban centers, a larger portion of the Yasuni National Park,
Alcaron says that the issues in these questions don’t deserve to be on the referendum and could have easily be dealt with by “a presidential decree or law.”
The Communist veteran insists these questions were placed on the referendum to “deceive the Ecuadorean people to vote yes to all the questions, and not examine them one by one.”
Vintimilla on the other hand, says the referendum questions “aren’t perfect, but we’re for a consult because it represents the people’s voice and is basic to democracy.”
The leader of the newer communist party says the consultation “won’t eradicate corruption or or eliminate political conflict”, but he hopes it will “improve the government, advance the Citizens’ Revolution, and unites civil society.”
It is undoubtedly the remaining questions however, that have drawn the most attention.
Question two which seeks to prohibit reelection for public officials, and would make this retroactive to 2008 - effectively barring Correa from running again.
Alarcon says that this would “take away the right of the Ecuadorean people to reelect who they want” at all levels of government.
“Be it the president, a mayor, a governor - it’s in the constitution that the population has the right to vote no matter how many times they want for the candidate they want”, Alarcon says.
On the Citizen's Council issue raised in the third question, Vintimilla says the CPCCS “is not working and is illegitimate in the eyes of society,” adding that “it’s better if the council is elected by popular vote and that candidates come from civil society organizations, as the consult question proposes.”
Vintimilla says that the proposed CPCCS change will allow civil society organizations to designate all superintendents, the ombudsman, the public defender, the attorney general, the comptroller general, the National Electoral Council and the Constitutional Court, as the council is charged to select.
For Alcaron, the newly appointed body if the vote passes will merely be a “commission arbitrarily selected by the president to serve as his functionaries.”
“As it is now, the CPCCS is filled with functionaries and selected by the president,” says Vintimilla by phone.
Regarding the possible repeal of the anti-accumulation law posed in question six, the young communist says that the government has the obligation to improve the law.
“We aren’t against the law, but we think there should be improvements to the law that will create an national institution that will implement the collection taxes around land and mining” says Vintimilla.
The proposal for the law in 2015 was the source of protests from business sectors and right-wing parties, and the repeal of the law was a demand of the runner up in the 2017 elections, millionaire banker Guillermo Lasso.
“As a communist party we aren’t against what the law says, but we do want to see a more clear way, an institution, that will implement it. The accumulation of land and capital is bad and a new law needs to be written with people’s input,” says Vintimilla.
The other communist party vehemently opposes the repeal of anti-speculation law, meanwhile.
Alarcon says Moreno wants to repeal the law “allowing powerful real estate and construction companies in Quito to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
“Moreno wants the population vote yes on this question to defend the accumulation of capital in a few private hands and don’t contributing to the state (in taxes),” claims Alcaron.