The common idiomatic expression “sí o no?” has taken on a whole new and highly loaded meaning as Ecuador´s national Referendum and Consulta Popular draws near. While a “sí” victory of the proposed five constitutional changes and five consultations on laws would certainly be worrisome in that it will concentrate even more power in the executive, the quantity, quality and creativity of the discourse of the intense campaigns for “sí” and “no” are evidence of an actively involved and concerned citizenry.
Furthermore, the “no” campaigns are coming from both the political right and the left in opposition to President Rafael Correa. This suggests that the five year dominance of the Alianza PAIS party is coming to a close.
The campaign for “sí” has been orchestrated predominantly by Alianza PAIS and has focused on a vote in favor of the 10 questions as one in support of “patria.” It is a campaign based on patriotism. Following this logic, the advertisements targeting the controversial communications law have framed the debate in terms of “sí” being a vote against violence, sex and other “irresponsible” materials that damage Ecuadorian society.
The “sí” campaign in favor of outlawing animal cruelty and events such as bull rodeos (where the animals are killed) has been somewhat more complicated. As rodeos de toros are a national pastime and part of Ecuadorean culture, the rhetoric of supporting patria has proven to be ineffective. Instead, the Alianza PAIS campaign has focused elsewhere, and President Correa even went so far as to say this proposed law would not affect rodeos. Noteworthy is the conspicuous absence of discussion regarding the proposed constitutional changes that would concentrate power over the judicial branch in the hands of the executive.
The campaigns for “no” have been more creative. The media, while banned by the National Electoral Committee (CNE) from officially campaigning, have found ways to express opposition to the proposed communications law. For example, Ecuador´s daily newspaper El Comercio staged a march this past Wednesday (May 4) for the World Day of Freedom of Expression. While the article published about the march does not mention the consulta, it does discuss the upcoming national assembly´s debate over the communications law and how the proposed law violates internationally protected freedom of expression.
Indigenous organizations—spearheaded by the national Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)—have staged marches, protests and rallies throughout the country. While the CONAIE officially suspended all conversations with the government in January 2010, regional and local organizations have come out strong against the Correa administration in the lead up to the consulta. In the Andean province of Cotopaxi, the provincial indigenous organization Indigenous and Campesino Movement of Cotopaxi (MICC) went so far as to symbolically take back a baton they had given President Correa in 2006.
The campaigns for both “sí” and “no” have been strong, creative and fervent. While usual suspects like the business community are contesting President Correa´s consulta, the vehement opposition of left-leaning political segments—including the indigenous movement, workers unions and the political party the Ruptura de 25—suggests that Alianza PAIS´s days of dominance are coming to a close, regardless of “sí o no.”
*Lindsay Green-Barberis a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York and is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on information and communication technologies and social movements in developing countries.