By Ethan Adelman
A fresh coat of paint has been placed on walls all over Ecuador; covering the slogans of past politicians with the slogans of the two candidates who are vying to be the next President of the country. "Primero La Gente", the slogan of the Socialcristiano Party candidate, Jaime Nebot, is plastered on street side walls, fences and houses from the coast to the Amazon basin. Along side these logos, the face of Partido Roldosista Ecuatorino (PRE) candidate, Abdala Bucaram, and his rallying cry, "Primero Los Pobres", has made an unmarked wall an endangered species.
The Presidential campaign has intensified in these last few weeks leading up to the July 7, election day. And although both Nebot and Bucaram have gained strong followings, a stronger sense of frustration over the limited options has been growing all over Ecuador. At the start of the election, many people felt that the candidates could get no worse than the incumbent President Sexto-Duran. However, a popular saying is that a choice between Nebot and Bucaram is like a choice between AIDS and cancer.
Socialcristiano Jaime Nebot, a lawyer and political official from Guayaquil, is considered extremely conservative and affiliated with some of the most affluent members of Ecuadorian society. The Socialcristianos, in addition to being the party of the incumbent President, have also been connected to various levels of corruption from laundering money to assassinating and persecuting political rivals. But Bucaram as well has been connected to government corruption. His rallying cry is " First the Poor!", yet he lives in an extravagant mansion and has been accused of pocketing money intended for social programs. He is a populist who has recently appealed to the poorest sectors of Ecuador through his charismatic style. Whether he is on the coast, in Quito, or talking to indigenous peoples, he has an amazing ability to change his speech depending on who he is addressing. The Nebot campaign has criticized Bucaram for his flamboyancy and called him a madman. Bucaram, in turn, has done little to dispel these accusations. One of his campaign headquarters in Quito is a colorful castle that looks more like a building in Disneyland than a place where presidents are made. In campaign rally's he rips of his shirt, sings rock n' roll tunes and dances with beautiful girls who he picks up out of the crowd. These rallies tend to resemble a wild concert where thousands of adoring fans scream for their superstar.
Campaigns in Ecuador, as well as the challenges this small country faces, are quite different than those in the US. The clearest issue in the campaign is the abundance of poverty in Ecuador. A conservative estimate is that over 60% of Ecuadorians live in poverty. Considering that by law every person over eighteen and under seventy years of age must vote, the candidates both realize the importance of appealing to the poor. To address this issue, they have concentrated significant energy on the airwaves, spending over 50% of their campaign funds on television and radio advertising. Both Nebot and Bucaram use long emotional commercials that paint a grim picture of poverty and then advertise themselves as the solution.
However, these commercials heralding a bright new dawn for Ecuador seem distant from the sentiments of many Ecuadorians. More realistically, they see July 7 as the possible beginning of a tumultuous period of unpredictability. No matter who wins, most Ecuadorians have little idea of what to expect, and are already looking forward to painting the walls again in four years.