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Ecuadoreans, Gripped by Pessimism, Vote Sunday for New Congress

April 29, 1994

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Apathy and pessimism have taken hold of voters in this small oil-exporting nation as they prepare to elect congressmen on Sunday.

More than 6.1 million Ecuadoreans are registered to vote, but absenteeism is expected to reach 40 percent on Sunday, despite a legal requirement to vote.

″If it were not an obligation, no one would vote,″ said Mariela Jarrin, a 29-year-old hotel receptionist. ″All that the politicians do is talk. They never keep their promises.″

Strikes and protests have become common in Ecuador, a South American country that once called itself an ″island of peace″ in a violent region.

Perhaps the most alarming development is the emergence of a small revolutionary group calling itself ″Sol Rojo″ - Red Sun - that has the backing of Peru’s brutal Shining Path rebels.

Political pollsters predict President Sixto Duran-Ballen, a conservative elected in 1992 to a four-year term, will suffer a crushing defeat. His two- party coalition is expected to lose as many as nine of its 15 seats.

Fifteen parties are running candidates in the election to choose 65 congressmen for two-year terms. The seats of another 12 congressmen elected to four-year terms in 1992 are not affected.

Duran-Ballen’s popularity rating is the lowest of any president since democracy was restored in 1979 after a seven-year military dictatorship.

In recent months Ecuador has been swept by strikes by teachers and public employees. Ecuador’s highland Indians, who make up nearly a third of the population of 10 million, have organized protests, blocking highways for days at a time.

Businessmen are unhappy over higher taxes, and Communist labor leaders have protested austerity measures that cut annual inflation to 30 percent but put thousands of people out of work.

Political analysts worry the deep voter apathy could undermine Ecuador’s stability.

″This situation is damaging our democratic system, and that is highly dangerous because people are losing faith and hope in the solution of their problems,″ said Miguel Rivadeneira, a political columnist for El Comercio, Quito’s leading newspaper.

Meanwhile, the oil reserves that brought Ecuador prosperity in the 1970s and 1980s are running out, and the country so far has not come up with another source of wealth.

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