ECUADOR’S president, Rafael Correa is setting records for the length of time he has spent in office with every day that passes. He remains very popular. Even so, his country’s voters dealt Mr Correa a blow on February 23rd. In city after city, Ecuadoreans handed victory to opposition candidates, leading to long faces at the headquarters of Alianza Pais (AP), Mr Correa’s political vehicle. The loss of the capital, Quito, where a centrist candidate, Mauricio Rodas trounced the incumbent AP mayor, Augusto Barrera (pictured left), smarted the most. “What has happened in Quito is very sad and dangerous,” said Mr Correa.
AP also failed to capture Mr Correa’s hometown, Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, and lost several other major cities like Cuenca and Santo Domingo de los Tsátchilas to opposition challengers. It failed to win any of Ecuador’s ten-biggest cities. Mr Correa insisted that AP continues to be the biggest political force in the country, and that AP would probably end up capturing around 100 of the 221 local governments up for grabs, along with the governments of major provinces. “There were local factors that produced the results,” said the president, blaming AP for sectarianism and complacency. “They will be analysed.”
Mr Barrera accepted responsibility for his defeat in Quito and pledged a smooth transition; Mr Rodas has promised to continue some of his rival’s projects, in particular a plan to build an underground railway to relieve gridlock in the city of 2.3m people. But Mr Correa shares some of the blame. “In Quito, his participation was counterproductive,” says Juan Carlos Donoso, a political scientist at Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
The final weeks of campaigning coincided with protests by doctors over a malpractice law and a farcical government investigation of a cartoonist, pushing Mr Barrera’s re-election bid off-course. Worried by the mayor’s decline in opinion polls, Mr Correa sent two open letters begging Quiteños for their vote, and then made the mistake of referring to problems with Mr Barrera’s “character” and telling voters to spoil their ballots rather than to vote for Mr Rodas. “That was a vote of no confidence” in Mr Barrera, says Mr Donoso.
The elections nonetheless confirm Mr Correa as the country’s dominant political figure. The opposition is fragmented. The conservative CREO movement, whose presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso came in second to Mr Correa last year, did not bother to participate in mayoral races in Quito, Guayaquil or Cuenca. Rival conservatives won in Guayaquil and Machala on the coast; left-wing opponents won in Cuenca and some areas of the Amazon. And the polls also show that AP itself has a thin roster of talent beneath Mr Correa. If the president wants his “Citizens’ Revolution” to last beyond 2017, the last year of his term, he may yet cast aside his promise not to seek a change to the constitution in order to stand for election again.