On February 23, the voters crushed President Correa´s mayoral candidates in Guayaquil and Quito. They are the first major electoral loses ever for him and Alianza PAIS, his political party.
"What would you do if you were in President Correa´s shoes?"
I present the outlandish question to you, dear reader. To me, too. To everyone, in fact.
A hypothetical question can only be given a hypothetical answer. Keep that in mind...
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Here is what Machiavelli says leaders should do when serious losses/corruption occur:
"There is nothing more true than that all the things of this world have a limit to their existence; but those only run the entire course ordained for them by Heaven that do not allow their body to become disorganized, but keep it unchanged in the manner ordained, or if they change it, so do it that it shall be for their advantage, and not to their injury. And as I speak here of mixed bodies, such as republics or religious sects, I say that those changes are beneficial that bring them back to their original principles. And those are the best-constituted bodies, and have the longest existence, which possess the intrinsic means of frequently renewing themselves, or such as obtain this renovation in consequence of some extrinsic accidents. And it is a truth clearer than light that, without such renovation, these bodies cannot continue to exist; and the means of renewing them is to bring them back to their original principles. For, as all religious republics and monarchies must have within themselves some goodness, by means of which they obtain their first growth and reputation, and as in the process of time this goodness becomes corrupted, it will of necessity destroy the body unless something intervenes to bring it back to its normal condition. Thus, the doctors of medicine say, in speaking of the human body, that ´every day some ill humors gather which must be cured.´” (Discourses on The First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Book 3, Chapter 1)
Ecuador has intrinsic means of frequently renewing itself. One went into action late last month: elections, every two years.
But as everybody knows, elections, in and of themselves, do not automatically create renewal. Will his shocking defeats in Quito and Guayaquil lead President Correa to return to "original principles"? Or, under the spell of an autonomous hamartia,* will he charge off in another direction?
In his TV program on March 1, President Correa offered an explanation of the two electoral disasters. He blamed them on "arrogancia," which had led to "sectarianism" in his political party.
We indicated in the prior post that the political "sectarianism" is a leftist gamesmanship ploy that is fun but, for the purpose of serious analysis, leads nowhere. As for "arrogancia" or hubris, which is the most common form of hamartia: for reasons to be given shortly, I am not convinced President Correa, with his observation of arrogancia, looked hamartia in the eye. However, he definitely heard its footsteps.
Arrogance, jealousy, anger: moral shortcomings and character flaws play a role in hamartia. Nevertheless, for political purposes it is more constructive to focus on the word´s normatively neutral and most fundamental meaning: missing the mark.
What, then, is the mark?
We just saw it: original principles. They are the inherent goodness that gave Rafael Correa his first growth and reputation. A return to those principles would involve, first and foremost, a review of his speeches, thoughts, attitudes, values and actions while campaigning in the 2006 presidential elections that brought him to power. Is that review now underway? I do not know.
I do know that within a few days of Alianza PAIS´s mayoral losses in Ecuador´s two biggest cities, President Correa announced he was going to do what he previously said he would not do: hold a public referendum to change the constitution to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely. Presently, the Ecuadorian president is limited to two consecutive 4-year terms.
Hamartia? A major miscalculation? -- or a masterstroke of intuition? Correa is capable of both. We will know the answer in hard numbers when the referendum takes place. Until then, all I can say is I had a terrible experience with the type of change President Correa is seeking ...
When the governor I worked for was elected, our state allowed him to serve only one four-year term. The first year of his administration flew by, when I was suddenly pulled into a secret meeting. The participants knew that, as the governor´s pollster, I had my hand on the public´s pulse.
The only item on the agenda: amend the constitution to allow the governor to serve two consecutive four-year terms. The amendment would require the voters´ approval at the upcoming midterm election a year away.
I read the proposed amendment, then looked at the ceiling. "O.K. gentlemen: when will the new system take effect?"
The silence was deafening. When it became apparent there would be no reply, I asked/answered a second question.
"I gather what you are seeking is this: the new system will begin when the voters approve the amendment. That would give you the possibility of another 10 years in office (2 of the remaining term + 4 + 4) versus a total of only 4 now."
One of the governor´s lawyers coughed. Feet shuffled under the huge round conference table.
Somebody asked, "Why are you so concerned about when the change will go into operation?"
"That´s easy," I replied, "If the two-consecutive term provision starts in the distant future -- say ten years from now -- the voters will approve it and view you as statesmen. If the provision starts right away, the voters will see it as a power grab and will hand you your heads in a basket."
They thanked me for coming. I went on my way.
The proposed amendment, which would have allowed the governor ten more years in office, also went its way. By a monumental margin at the polls, it crashed and burned.
The governor had entered office with a sky-high popularity rating comparable to Correa´s. I will never forget the enthusiasm, the optimism, the all-around good will. When his two-term amendment failed to pass, it became obvious in bold and cold numbers he had lost the support of the people.
A president offered him an ambassadorship. I told him to take it, that he had no future in state electoral politics. As before, he decided otherwise. "Tom, it´s a cabinet position or nothing." A week later, I resigned.
After he left office, the governor ran twice for major political positions. He didn´t get past the primary elections. Your dead dog could have beat him.
Post Script, March 11. Vinicio Alvarado, who ran Correa´s 2007 election campaign and today serves as Correa´s head of Public Administration, said "unlimited re-election perhaps would not be an adequate option right now...A better possibility would be for President Correa to return to the presidency after leaving it for a period of time." ("la reelección indefinida tal vez no sería una opción muy adecuada este rato (...) más saludable podría ser la posibilidad de que Correa pudiera retornar luego de un periodo...")
*See prior post. Hamartia (ἁμαρτία) has been alternatively translated as fatal flaw, frailty, sin, trespass, mistake, miscalculation, error of judgment.