In the wake of next February’s Ecuadorian presidential election, and less than a month before the official start of the campaign, the rules of the game set by the reform to the electoral law remain questionable. The concern over the substance of the new electoral law stems mainly from Article 21, which restricts the freedom of the press during the campaign and hinders the ability of the opposition to disseminate electoral propaganda. Outside of these concerns, questions have also been raised about the reform’s legality: it was adopted without a majority in the legislature and passed after the timeframe permitted by the constitution. In addition, members of the Citizen Participation and Social Control Council (CPCCS) have questioned the independence of the National Electoral Council (CNE), the ultimate authority in electoral matters in charge of assuring that elections are free and fair.
Regarding the restrictions to the freedom of the press, the partial veto from the executive to this law, stated in Article 21 that the media should abstain from “direct or indirect promotion that could have an impact for or against any particular candidate.” The National Assembly never approved Article 21; instead the reform was passed by default through a mechanism that allows the president to order the enactment of the law if the Assembly does not reach a consensus in 30 days.Moreover, “direct and indirect promotion” is an ambiguous choice of words that lacks any practical purpose. This clause would require judicial interpretation for every published news article or story when a candidate argues it affects his or her campaign “indirectly.” Perhaps the most concerning aspect about this provision is that few cases may be presented for judicial consideration, but it will create an environment of self-censorship in newspapers, TV, and radio stations due to the risk of being subject to charges. Ultimately, this reform is being enforced at a time when ideas and political platforms should be openly discussed without prior censorship. Restricting the freedom of the press during an electoral campaign not only affects journalists, but it also violates the right of the population to access information, since the media will not disseminate information freely.
Another dispute over Article 21 is the clause that impedes the candidates to disseminate electoral propaganda privately. Campaign ads can only be contracted through the electoral authorities. While the opposition needs to operate through a series of bureaucratic obstacles to diffuse their propaganda, public entities have been given approval from the CNE to advertise the government’s accomplishments in key issues such as education, healthcare, security, and public works, among others. Furthermore, the Alianza País (AP) National Convention was transmitted through three state-owned TV channels. It is clear that public resources have been used to promote Correa and his party, violating the law and granting the current administration an unfair advantage over the opposition.