Ecuadoreans will head back to the polls on 2 April to determine who will occupy El Palacio de Carondelet, Ecuador's government house, for the next four years, after 19 February's general election didn't come up with an outright winner. Against all projections Socialist Lenin Moreno, who served as outgoing president Rafael Correa's vice president between 2007 and 2013, did very well.
He obtained 39.21 per cent of the votes, just shy of the 40 needed to win in the first round. He is in a strong position for the 2 April run off. In order to cross the line he will have to negotiate and attract the social democracy of Paco Moncayo, who came fourth.
The closer contender is the right wing banker Guillermo Lasso, who assured that, if elected, Julian Assange would be expelled from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has been since 2012, when Correa granted him asylum. Lasso obtained 28.42 per cent of the votes, so to win in run off he will have to knit together the highly fractured Ecuadorean right
While Moreno fell short of winning in the first round there is a sense that the Ecuadorean 21st century socialism, an economic and political model instigated by Correa, is still popular among the majority; and in this Andean country of 15 million the majority are poor.
Perhaps the big winner of the undecided first round was Correa himself. Against all predictions his ruling Alianza País obtained a comfortable majority in the National Assembly. It won 75 out of 137 seats.
The election also gave the departing president one more triumph. His referendum — where Ecuadorians where asked to approve an 'Ethical Pact' preventing anybody with financial assets in tax heavens from holding public service roles — was solidly ratified. The referendum was called as a response to the Panama Papers scandal.
Correa, colloquially called 'mashi' (comrade in Quechua) won the 2006 election and took office in 2007. In an OPEP oil wealthy country, Correa inherited a neoliberal driven financially bankrupt society.
Equipped with an authoritarian style of leadership — not always welcome — Correa managed to stabilise the economy. From the first year of his government to 2015 the GDP grew 3.9 per cent; ten points above the Latin American average of 2.9.
"Not everything has been rosy for Correa. During his ten years in power he foolishly alienated — due to his aggressive extractive-based economy — important sectors of the left, the environmental and indigenous movements."
Correa inherited a dysfunctional political system that between 1997 — when Ecuador returned to democracy — and 2007 has seen 11 presidential elections. Transparency International described his political predecessors as the hemisphere's worst kleptocracies. During this period — before Correa came to power — seven presidents were forced out of office after massive popular unrest. Even his most zealous opponents recognise that Correa gave the country an acceptable level of political stability.
Correa is a close apprentice of Hugo Chavez's progressive social policies. He strengthened the role of the state in just about all areas of Ecuadorean society, culture, economy, education, health and housing. He applied a policy of 'assistance and clientelism' based on heavy state subsidies to programs of social benefit among the most disadvantaged sectors of the society.
Correa's 'citizen revolution' and his philosophical view of what has been called the 'socialism of good living' have achieved the unachievable. Since he began wearing the presidential sash around 2 million have escaped poverty. In 2006 poverty hurt almost 17 per cent of the population; now it is around 8 per cent.
Correa became a key player in the so-called pink wave — a massive tide of progressive left-wing governments that moved throughout Latin America at the end of the 1990s. He was, along with Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, one of the builders of the 21st century socialist movement, a political, social and economic experiment underpinned by an anti-US, Latin American nationalism, progressive policies and regional integration.
However, not everything has been rosy for Correa. He faced a right wing coup d'état attempt in 2010 and in the last years of his government, anti-government protests became daily events. During his ten years in power he foolishly alienated — due to his aggressive extractive-based economy — important sectors of the left, the environmental and indigenous movements. Correa also waged a pointless war against the commercial media, colourfully described by him as 'ink's sicarios'.
Leading up to the 2 April elections the gloves of the two contenders, Moreno and Lasso, are off. Moreno has promised to maintain Correa's achievements and fix some of his blunders. Lasso, who enjoys unchallenged news coverage in the commercial news media, has promised to erase Correa from the recent history of Ecuador. In the meantime 12 million Ecuadorean voters — and one lonely exiled Australian — wait anxiously to know what lies ahead.
Antonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.