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Party Nationalization after the 2013 Ecuadorian Legislative and Presidential Election

- March 14, 2013

Continuing our series of election reports in conjunction with Electoral Studies, the following is a post-election report on the February 17, 2013, Ecuadorian legislative and presidential elections. The report is written by Jason Eichorst, a PhD candidate at Rice University writing a dissertation that uses automated content analysis of legislative debates to uncover patterns of representation of historically underrepresented groups in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, and John Polga-Hecimovich, a PhD candidate in Comparative Politics at the University of Pittsburgh who is writing his dissertation on the delegation of policy implementation authority in Latin America.


On Friday, 8 March, the Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE) released the final voting results for the legislative and presidential elections held on 17 February. These results verify the dominance of the government party, Alianza Patria Altiva I Soberana (Alianza PAIS), and hint at a realignment of the party system. Riding the coattails of the popular incumbent president Rafael Correa, Alianza PAIS has transcended the historical tendency towards regionalization of the country’s parties through a strong performance across the country’s 34 electoral districts.

This election marks an important milestone for democracy in Ecuador. President Correa is completing the first full term for an Ecuadorian president since Sixto Durán Ballén (1992-1996), and his time in office surpasses that of Isidro Ayora (1926-1931), making him the longest-serving president in the country’s history.[1] His current mandate terminates on 10 August 2013. As expected, Correa easily won re-election in the first-round with 57% of the valid vote, and Alianza PAIS won a 92-seat majority in the 137-member unicameral legislative assembly (seat distribution is still being decided by the National Electoral Council, pending a ruling on potential voter fraud in the province of Guayas).


This is Correa’s third presidential election, winning in both 2006 and 2009. His first term was cut short in 2009 for early elections after the adoption of the 2008 Constitution.  The 2008 Constitution, drafted by members of Alianza PAIS, allows for immediate one-time re-election.[2] Correa’s 2009 election was the first since the return to democracy in 1979 that a candidate won the presidency without competing in a second-round, exceeding the 50 per cent threshold in the first-round.

The president’s overwhelming support in the election can be credited to a number of factors, including: increased government reserves due to strong oil prices and increased tax revenues; increased social spending and subsequent reduction of poverty and unemployment; increased access to healthcare; and improved infrastructure. However, this should not suggest that the administration has proceeded without conflict. A violent confrontation between Correa and the national police erupted on 30 September 2010 in response to expected benefit cuts. Correa has also faced significant criticism for undercutting democratic institutions (including an unconstitutional reform of the judiciary) and directly challenging freedom of press.

The president is elected using a majority-runoff system. A candidate can by-pass the second round if she wins the first-round with more than 50 per cent of the vote, or between 40 and 50 per cent of the vote with a 10 percentage point margin of victory. The second-round is between the top two candidates, which would have been held on 7 April 2013.

Legislators are elected separately from one national district (15 total seats), 24 provincial districts (116 total seats)[3], and three “external” districts (6 total seats) using a preferential vote system with seats distributed by party. Candidates run on a party list for each ballot. A voter has as many votes as there are seats. Those votes can be distributed to the entire party-list (en plancha), or redistributed across lists to individual candidates (nominales), as in panachage. A voter does not have to exhaust all of her votes if she decides to select individual candidates. Total party votes combine nominal votes and all of the plancha votes. Seats are distributed from total party votes using D’Hondt formula.

Party Nationalization

The structure of the legislative electoral system encourages a regionalization of the party system, where parties can be successful in specific provinces and non-existent in others (Pachano 2006).  Politicians throughout the country’s history have tended to find support in one region or the other, but rarely in both.  Notably, since the return to democracy in 1979 business-friendly conservative parties have been successful in the coast and are less competitive in the sierra or Amazonian lowlands (“Oriente”), while labor- and indigenous-friendly parties have found support in the highland Andean plateau (“sierra”).

The geographical extension or limitations of parties can be expressed through the concept of party nationalization, which measures the consistency of party strength across districts. Empirically, we can use vote share support across districts to measure party nationalization. While multiple indices exist (Morgenstern et al. 2011), we use the Standardized Party Nationalization Score (sPNS) developed by Boschsler (2010) to capture the extent of party nationalization for each party. This measure determines the inequality of vote shares across districts, weighted by district size and the total number of electoral districts. This produces a continuous variable between 0 and 1, where a larger number indicates greater static nationalization.

Table 1 shows descriptive statistics for each major party competing in the legislative elections. We show the party ideology (party type), the year the party was established (established), the percent of total votes won (total vote)[4], total number of provinces where the party competed (prov.), minimum vote percentage (min), maximum vote percentage (max), vote standard deviation (SD), and nationalization (sPNS).

Table 1. 2013 Ecuadorian Provincial Deputy elections, descriptive statistics

As the table makes clear, Alianza PAIS is one of the few parties that has managed to overcome the debilitating coast/Andes regional divide that has historically plagued Ecuadorian politics and cemented itself as a truly national party. This is due in part to the strength of the party’s national policy that appeals to their broad base, as well as Correa’s permanence in power. To begin with, social welfare programs like the Human Development Bond and investments in higher education impact citizens across the country, while the unprecedented rule and reach of the president has allowed his party brand to grow in places, like the Oriente, that did not originally support his movement.  Further, PAIS has co-opted other movements on the Left, like the MPD, MUPP-NP, and the PS-FA, forcing them into electoral pacts with the government party or simply poaching their support in their traditional bastions of power.

The party also benefits by merely showing up.  In 2013, Alianza PAIS was one of just three parties (including, the populist PRIAN and PSP) to compete for legislative seats in all 34 electoral districts. Yet it earned significant support in even the weakest of these districts.  In total, PAIS won more than 50 percent of the party vote in the coastal provinces (Santo Domingo, Manabí, Los Rios, three of four Guayas districts, El Oro), the metropolitan Quito area (three of four Pichincha districts), and abroad (all three foreign districts, including 69 percent of the vote share in “Europe, Asia and Oceania”).  It earned its lowest votes shares in the southern Andes and the Oriente, yet still won 17 percent of the vote in its worst performing province of Loja.

PAIS’s strong performance in the coastal provinces shows a further erosion of traditional coastal powers PSC and PRE, and relative newcomer PRIAN (founded in 2002). The PSC, a business-friendly Social Christian party, won only 5 of 20 possible seats in the largest coastal province, Guayas, and only 8% of the total national vote. This is a major loss for a party that has concentrated its resources and energy in this region, and held it along with the PRE and PRIAN since 1982. The PSC did not place candidates in any of the six Oriente provinces, the Galápagos, or three southern Andean provinces in 2013.  The PRE performed just as poorly. It failed to earn even 9% of the vote in any province, and like the PSC, ran candidates in only 24 electoral districts, winning just 3% of the national vote for what appears to be a single legislative seat.  Meanwhile, perpetual presidential candidate Álvaro Noboa’s PRIAN failed to break 8% of the vote in any district (despite running lists in all 34), earned only 4% of the national vote, and did not win a single Assembly seat.

Interestingly, the comparatively poor showing of PAIS in the more indigenous south-central Andes was not met by gains in the largely indigenous Pachakutik (MUPP-NP) party, which only fielded candidates in three districts. Recent electoral failures have encouraged Pachakutik to form an electoral alliance with other leftists-parties to remain viable in the legislative election. Even that was unsuccessful. However, the PSP maintained its strong showing in the northern Oriente, the home of party leader and ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez. The party competed in all 34 districts, but performed best in the more mestizo and indigenous Andes and Oriente than on the coast.

The closest competitor to Alianza PAIS comes from the right. CREO emerged as the second-largest political force in the country, with an average of 9% of the national legislative vote and 12 legislators (pending confirmation by the CNE).  It ran party lists in 29 electoral districts, and represents a new collection of business and conservative forces to oppose Correa’s “Citizens’ Revolution”.  By doing so, CREO also eats away at the PSC’s traditional support. This is very similar to the way Bolivia’s right-wing coalition emerged to combat Evo Morales’ MAS. The party has ties to Guayaquil and Quito’s chambers of industry and commerce.

In Figure 1 we plot the sPNS over time for five of the largest parties in Ecuador (PAIS, PRE, PRIAN, PSC, PSP). We also include MUPP-NP and ID, two parties with diminishing electoral support in the contemporary period. MUPP-NP was regionally strong in the Indigenous provinces until its decline. ID was a consistent competitor in every election since the 1979 transition to democracy. It was traditionally a coherent social democratic party, but was unable to overcome internal factions to compete in the 2013 election.

Alianza PAIS has shown high territorial homogeneity since its inception. Although the party is still young, it shows a degree of nationalization only achieved by PSC in the early 1990s and the ID in the 1980s, when the latter was the largest competitive center-left party. We see that following historical patterns of caudillismo, where large landholders controlled large regions of the country both politically and economically, parties in Ecuador tend to be regional in their appeals and are only nationally competitive for short periods of time. After only one full electoral cycle, PAIS managed to improve on its nationally competitive position in the 2013 election, rising from about 0.82 to 0.90. Some of the increase in party nationalization for the opposition parties in the 2013 is due to their consistent poor performance across all provinces. It should be interesting to see if the PAIS’s electoral dominance at the national level encourages the opposition to unify behind a coherent national program, or if it will suffer from factionalism and infighting, like the Venezuelan opposition of the 2000s.

Overall, we find that the traditional parties have weakened even in regions of traditional strength. Alianza PAIS has consolidated its support and has consistently competed nationally since its first election. It is, however, to early to determine if this strength is stable without President Correa. The constitution limits a president to two four-year terms. Correa has already publicly expressed his interest to step-down after the end of this term (his second). However, PAIS does have the legislative strength to modify the constitution, which requires a 2/3 legislative vote to ratify a constitutional amendment. Ecuador does not have the types of institutional arrangements that protect the minority from strong, unified control of government. It will be interesting to see if PAIS can maintain its national appeal and strength without Correa leading the presidential ticket.


Bochsler, Daniel. 2010. “Measuring Party Nationalization: A New Gini-Based Indicator that Corrects for the Number of Units.” Electoral Studies 29:155-68.

Conaghan, Catherine M. 2012. “Prosecuting Presidents: The Politics within Ecuador’s Corruption Cases.” Journal of Latin American Studies 44 (04):649-78.

Mejía Acosta, Andrés, and John Polga-Hecimovich. 2011. “Coalition Erosion and Presidential Instability in Ecuador.” Latin American Politics and Society 53 (2):87-111.

Morgenstern, Scott, John Polga-Hecimovich, and Peter Siavelis. 2011. “Measuring Party System Nationalization: A Cautionary Tale from Chile.” In Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting. Chicago.

Pachano, Simón. 2006. “Ecuador: Fragmentation and Regionalization of Representation.” In The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes, ed. S. Mainwaring, A. M. Bejarano and E. Pizarro. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal S. 2007. Crisis Without Breakdown: Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Presidential instability has been common in Ecuador since 1996: Abdalá Bucaram (1996-1997) was (unconstitutionally) impeached and replaced by the president of congress; Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000) was similarly removed in a military-indigenous coup led by Col. Lucio Gutiérrez; and as civilian president, Gutiérrez (2003-2f005) was also unconstitutionally impeached (See: Conaghan 2012; Mejía Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich 2011; Pérez-Liñán 2007).

[2] Correa’s partial term from 2006 to 2009 is not considered to contribute to the total number of terms he can serve.

[3] Three provinces (Guayas, Manabi, and Pichincha) are further divided into multiple districts. Those districts in addition to the foreign districts result in 34 total electoral districts.

[4] Total votes for a party are a mixture of list and preference votes, and cannot simply be added to calculate the party vote share. In order to determine party vote share, we borrow from the Swiss Federal Statistical Institute’s concept of the “fictional voter”, which is defined as: the number of votes obtained by a given party, multiplied by the number of valid ballots over the number of valid votes.  In notational form, this becomes slightly more complicated, since the number of votes obtained by the party requires distributing the list vote over all candidates, and then taking the sum of all the preference votes. For party  with  candidates in district  of m magnitude with  voters and  total votes is, party strength looks like this: