Ecuador returns to normal political chaos

Despite having the now mandatory Latin American contest between a pro-Chavez candidate and a pro-US one, Ecuador’s presidential election had failed to capture the public imagination – that is until doubts over the transparency of the vote emerged.

The vote counting problems have aroused public anger

The little faith Ecuadoreans have in politics is not surprising given that they have known seven presidents in less than 10 years, three of them being ousted before finishing their respective four-year mandates.

However, the doubts over the transparency of Sunday’s election have shaken off some of the apathy.

Surprising early results showed Ecuador’s richest man, Alvaro Noboa, ahead of pre-vote favourite and left-wing candidate, Rafael Correa.

On the eve of voting, Correa had raised concerns over remarks supposedly made by Rafael Bielsa, the head of election observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS), referring negatively to Correa.

System warning

Bielsa denied any wrongdoing, but Correa, supported by non-governmental organisations, demanded he be relieved from his duties because he was “biased against a candidate”.

That complaint fell on deaf ears, however, and a letter leaked a few hours later to the press raised concerns about the readiness and reliability of the electoral system.

Correa accused the head of the OAS observers of being biased
Correa accused the head of the OAS observers of being biased

Correa accused the head of the
OAS observers of being biased

The letter was dated 11 October 2006 – four days before the voting – and was from Bielsa to the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. 

It warned that tests and simulations performed on October 8 showed the electoral system lacked the minimum guarantees required for the good functioning and transparency of the electoral process.

The letter highlighted several problem areas relating to the counting system, some of them quite serious.

Unanswered questions

Not only is there the question of why this information was not disclosed to the public, but some international independent observers are said to be dismayed because the tribunal did not even pass these concerns on to them. 

The letter was not made public and might be viewed simply as a way for Correa to attract last-minute sympathy and, by association, votes, but both the OAS and the electoral tribunal confirmed its authenticity without hesitation.

The vote-counting processdescended into confusion
The vote-counting processdescended into confusion

The vote-counting process
descended into confusion

The OAS maintains it had done its job by warning the tribunal of the risks and problems existing in the system and that it was up to the tribunal to pass the information on to the public. 

As for the tribunal, it said that it was within its rights not to make public what it considered to be mere observations and that it was free to do whatever it wanted with them.

When, a few hours later on Sunday, the electronic counting system collapsed, the letter increased importance and, while the OAS was right to say that the system was not ready, the tribunal may be accused of negligence by not taking their observations seriously enough.

Rumour mill

Confusion reigned. E-Vote, a Brazilian firm owned by an ex-OAS chief observer, had been contracted by the tribunal to do a quick count using an electronic system. The deal stipulated that E-Vote would release preliminary unofficial results by 8pm on October 15, the day of the voting. 

Rumours abounded that the head of the firm had fled the country and that data recorded on the company’s machines were going to be taken out of Ecuador, and that the tribunal was not going to pay the firm its remaining balance of $2.5 million. 

Although the firm later declared it was resuming its work, obviously after breaking some kind of deal with the tribunal, Ecuadorians were still waiting for the remaining 30 per cent of the preliminary unofficial results of the presidential election, not to mention the results of parliamentary and local elections. 

As dozens of people gathered in front of the tribunal’s headquarters to demand that the elections be annulled it was starting to look like a “typical” Latin American election.

Normally abnormal

The protesters claimed there was fraud and that in addition to the electronic manipulation of results, ballot boxes had disappeared in some provinces.

Noboa, Ecuador's richest man, will run in the second round
Noboa, Ecuador’s richest man, will run in the second round

Noboa, Ecuador’s richest man,
will run in the second round

The quick deployment of anti-riot police showed how concerned the government, understandable, perhaps, in light of Ecuador’s history of violent protests bringing down the government.

Where things will go from here, nobody knows. By next Sunday, the tribunal should release the results, as required by law. 

But many Ecuadorians say tat what is happening is normal in their country. 

Fernando, 25, is betting with his friends that, should Noboa win the second round, he will be ousted within 18 months, and should Correa win, he will not last more than one year.  That is normal for an Ecuadorian.

However, outsiders may think otherwise and wonder when Ecuador will experience political stability.

Source: Al Jazeera