President Rafael Correa of Ecuador won a convincing victory in a 10-question referendum – the sixth time voters have backed him at the polls since he was first elected in 2006.
The weekend plebiscite, which included bans on bullfighting and casino gambling, also took aim at three of Mr Correa’s long-time targets – banks, courts and the media.
As a result of the vote, banks will be limited to providing only financial services, companies with media holdings can no longer own non-media interests, and a media-content board will be created. A new three-person board will also be charged with reforming the country’s judiciary.
Mr Correa, 48, declared victory a few hours after the polls closed, saying: “The Ecuadorian people have won; the truth has won.”
The president’s party received an average of 55 per cent on the 10 questions, according to results from three polling companies.
The results shore up Mr Correa’s already substantial power in Ecuador, only eight months after a coup attempt last September.
His political party, Alianza Pais, is the largest group in congress, and the new judicial board will allow him to have a significant say in the courts. The three-member board will have a representative chosen by the president, one by congress and another from civil society.
Mr Correa is already the longest-serving president since the late 19th century, and the referendum results put him in a strong position for another four-year term at the next elections, due in 2013.
Critics accuse Mr Correa of creating an authoritarian regime that uses constant elections as a facade for democracy. “Correa always needs to be campaigning as a way to control the political debate. It is how he exercises political power,” said Ramiro Crespo, executive president of Analytica Securities, an investment firm.
The president dismissed these claims throughout the campaign, addressing them again after casting his ballot. “They say we are totalitarian,” he said. “But we are doing things democratically.”
While scoring another big win, Mr Correa still has work to do. The constitution will need to be modified to accommodate some of the changes, while others will require implementing laws. Congress, even though controlled by the president’s party, has still not approved many laws required to implement fully the constitution approved in 2008.
He must also contend with some tricky economic issues that could turn voter sympathy again him. Inflation in the four months to the end of April was nearly 4 per cent – the highest since 2008, and tensions are mounting with the US since the expulsion of Washington’s ambassador last months over a spat about WikiLeaks cables. The US government responded in kind, expelling Ecuador’s ambassador.
US lawmakers could formally eliminate tariff benefits for Ecuadorean exporters – in place since the early 1990s – which could have a huge impact on the country’s finances and Mr Correa’s ability to pay for his programmes.