Presidencia Ecuador

Ecuador’s president says he will not seek a fourth consecutive term in office, but before he leaves, he wants to abolish term limits—just in case "el pueblo" wants him back in the future.

The move to abolish term limits is being widely criticized by opposition leaders who fear that Correa is just trying to keep a foot in the door in case he decides to return to power after taking a four-year hiatus from the presidency.

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“He’s not doing this because he’s lost attachment [to power]” said Cynthia Viteri, an opposition congresswoman. “The president doesn’t make any moves by chance.”

News that Correa will not be running in the 2017 election was confirmed on Wednesday night by the president of Ecuador’s National Assembly.

A few hours after the announcement, a group of congressmen from the ruling party backed a proposed constitutional reform that would abolish all term limits, allowing Correa, who has consistently polled as one of the most popular presidents in the region, to consider another presidential bid in the future. The current law prevents Correa from ever seeking the presidency again.

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“I am very proud of my colleagues in the National Assembly,” Correa tweeted on Thursday. “The fragmentation, ambition and lack of proposals of the opposition is so great, that I have no doubts we will win the 2017 election with [other] candidates.”

Under the proposed constitutional change, Correa would be allowed to run again in 2021, and then could remain in the presidency indefinitely as long as he continues to win reelection.

The push for unlimited terms is a trend among Latin America’s leftist leaders, starting with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who had term limits abolished through a referendum before his death. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega got himself reelected illegally then changed the constitution to abolish term limits. And in Bolivia, pro-government congressmen are currently discussing a law that would allow Evo Morales to pursue a fourth consecutive term.

Opposition parties in these countries argue that the abolition of term limits weakens democracy because it's much easier for sitting presidents to win re-election by using their position of power and access to state resources. Term limits were imposed in Latin America precisely to avoid the dictatorships and dynasties of the past.

Correa said on Thursday that abolishing term limits makes sense because “the people” should have the right to elect whomever they want. “In underdeveloped countries like ours, the continuity of successful projects like our revolution is fundamental,” Correa tweeted.

Identical arguments have be made by the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

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Correa has been Ecuador’s president since 2007. He got re-elected to a third term in 2013. Opposition leaders say that by skipping the next election he's trying to make his perpetual presidency look legitimate by not changing the rules in the middle of the game, like some other Latin American leaders have done in recent years.

Correa also might be picking a good time to sit one out. His decision to not run for a fourth consecutive term comes as the country faces an economic slump, brought about by low oil prices and government policies that have failed to boost private investment. Hundreds of thousands of Ecuadoreans took to the streets this summer to protest a proposed inheritance tax as well as government efforts to curb free speech.

While Correa’s approval ratings have slumped a bit this year, he remains one of the most popular presidents in Ecuador’s recent history. His support for social programs has lifted many Ecuadoreans out of poverty, and he’s managed to use the country’s oil money to improve local infrastructure and educational facilities.

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Correa has also brought political stability to a country with a long history of corrupt leaders and military coups. Prior to Correa’s takeover, Ecuador went through eight presidents in 10 years, with some of them lasting no more than a week—not quite long enough to have business cards printed.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.