ECUADOR ELECTION – Video Report from London

In the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election no one candidate won outright with more than 40% of the vote. The country is looking for a successor to Rafael Correa and will hold a run-off in April. Here’s my preview video:


Catchphrases and Top Trumps

The reliable power of a political phrase in recent elections

‘Make America Great Again’.

Emblazoned on caps, waved on placards, repeated again and again by Donald Trump, it was a message that was at the heart of the political earthquake that has shaken the United States. The president-elect skilfully used nicknames, pithy refrains and stadium chants to hammer home his mantras throughout the campaign. And when it comes to election day, these things tend to stick in people’s minds.

When Trump discussed his nearest Republican challenger in the primary process, he called him ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz. It worked — the name caught on in the public consciousness and media space and Cruz’s campaign was dismissed and dismantled. Trump named the defeated Democratic presidential nominee ‘Crooked Hillary’ and on the campaign trail town halls rang to the deafening refrains of ‘Lock her up’ (on calls for Mrs Clinton to face trial over her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State — the FBI’s most recent investigation found no case to answer on this).

Mr Trump had two other core chants with which he whipped up his supporters: ‘Build the wall’ (about his now-altered plan for a barrier on the border with Mexico) and ‘Drain the swamp’ (on his stated desire to sweep Washington clean of corruption).

Trump’s election victory compares to the Brexit vote in the UK in June. The similarities clearly exist in the punishment both votes dished out to the establishment candidates and the political elites.

The Trump and the Vote Leave campaigns promised an unclear future but one that would be undeniably different, fresh and changed from a picture they painted of a tired, entrenched system that was not working for the masses. And both campaigns enjoyed a willingness on the part of voters to see past questionable economic claims (in the Vote Leave case) and inflammatory and often racist comments (espoused by Mr Trump). The people overlooked issues like those because there was a greater dream at stake — the drive to rock the Westminster and Washington boats forever.

Furthermore, like the Trump campaign, in the UK, Vote Leave activists made successful use of the pithy remark. The phrases ‘Take back control’ and ‘We want our country back’ — whether these remain truthfully obtainable aims for the Brexiteers or not — carry a message of patriotic optimism with an undercurrent of achievable change. They embody the Vote Leave ambition of wresting the governance of the UK back from Brussels and they hark back to what they see as a golden era of how their country ‘used to be’.

This was a similar flavour to Trump’s ‘Make America great again’. The president-elect’s chant was denounced by opponents as a fallacy but for millions of his voters it was a positive message that could one day be realised. It painted a triumphant image of the superpower’s history but it was also a message where we saw the electorate willingly put on some rose-tinted spectacles to envisage that new ‘old’ America.

And the man that Donald Trump is replacing in the Oval Office knows the power of a good catchphrase.

‘Yes we can’ was the central message for Barack Obama and his team in 2008. An unquestionably positive phrase, it laid the basis for the hope that an African-American president could be elected, and that a new, more mindful politics could be introduced. The fact that the phrase was written and spoken regularly in several languages demonstrated its inclusiveness: any voter could take the phrase and apply it to their personal ambitions.

Slogans that are seen as optimistic and aspirational were also employed by the former British Chancellor, George Osborne, who regularly used the words ‘Long-term economic plan’ throughout his time in the Treasury.

The opposition Labour party would groan and jeer when he uttered it for the umpteenth time in a budget speech. But when it came to the general election in the UK last year, the idea of a ‘long-term economic plan’ struck a chord with the electorate and offered them the chance to be associated with what they saw as an aspirational message. Osborne also used the words ‘hard-working families’ and together the two refrains gave support to the desires and aims of millions of so-called ‘shy Tories’ who propelled Osborne’s party to a majority in May 2015.

Whether or not a phrase is entirely true or can actually be carried out is not of top importance. What matters is how readily the electorate take to the message. Hillary Clinton is unlikely to be ‘locked up’ but frequent hollering of this demand by Trump supporters re-affirmed the fear that millions of Americans had that there was something not wholly truthful about the former first lady’s conduct.

The negotiations to extract the UK from the European Union are going to be difficult and detailed and the terms of the exit are nowhere near set in stone. We do not know whether the country will ever ‘take back control’ but it was the power of what the message meant to voters during the referendum campaign that mattered.

What these phrases also do is convince the electorate that now is the one and only opportunity in history to effect the change behind the refrain.

The millions of Americans who voted Republican last week saw this election as their chance to ‘make America great again’. Those Britons opting to leave the EU saw the referendum as a unique opening to change the course of the country’s future. And those voting for Barack Obama in 2008 dreamt that this was the chosen hour; this was their time to effect the hopeful message of ‘Yes we can’.

Political slogans come and go in elections across the globe, but their iteration can become like a daily prayer for the believers.

What did the Tories say they’ll do in 2015? ‘Well they’ve got a long-term economic plan for hard-working families’. What was Obama’s main promise in 2008? ‘He says ‘Yes we can’ and we believe in him’. Can you name any of Donald Trump’s policies? ‘He’s the man who’s going to make America great again’.

Whether they are correct or not, once a certain rallying cry has been put out there, it is adopted by the faithful and repeated in discourse, online and in print. Catchphrases are useful methods to harden the resolve of your core voting constituency and they are an easy way to promote your policies, as voters take them up and repeat them for you out in the public sphere.

Revolution rocked

What to make of the elections in Venezuela?

Punishing the Socialists? Approving the new centrist coalition? A slap in the face for the chavista legacy? Not as much pro-opposition, but more anti-government?

At Canning House in London, three experts debated the results of a most fascinating election, where the ruling left-wingers lost their majority in the country’s one parliamentary house to a huge group of opposition parties.

Julia Buxton, a professor in comparative politics at the Central European University, is a seasoned Venezuela watcher. She was joined by Catherine Nettleton, British ambassador to Venezuela from 2010 – 2014, and the Latin America editor at the Financial Times, John Paul Rathbone.


For the former ambassador, this was the “beginning of a new stage, not a fundamental change to society”. Ms Nettleton said the opposition would now feel under pressure to stay united. This was not the time for celebrations, said Ms Buxton. She warned of a “high potential for instability and disorder” and “a rollercoaster ahead of us”. Caution was the way forward, she said. For the FT’s Latin America editor, it was simple: Venezuela has to change. Mr Rathbone was unsure if now we would see “confrontation or transition”.


The journalist despaired of an “economy in dire condition…[with] too many vested interests”. He reeled off a list of serious problems that needed addressing, including the high risk of default, low foreign reserves and the plunging oil price.

That last point was important for Mr Rathbone. It all boiled down to three letters, he said: “O-I-L”. There were “distortions in the exchange rate…attempts ongoing to reschedule due debts…[and an] audit of state finances was needed”. He summed up his thoughts by sighing that the government’s measures “were not economic policy – this is a lottery”.

Bearing in mind how long it has taken to get the country into this parlous state, this blog asked the panel if there were any quick fixes that could be applied to satisfy an exasperated public.

Catherine Nettleton said several small steps were required across a wide range of policy areas, whereas Mr Rathbone suggested deinstitutionalisation and a sorting out of the troubled and distorted exchange rate.


Julia Buxton highlighted the dearth of a leftist alternative to the current Socialist party leadership, blaming the chavistas for falling out of touch with their grassroots. The election defeat was the price that president Nicolás Maduro had to pay for “sclerosis” and the politics professor went on to hint that the result of the vote “may prove to be fatal for Maduro”. That said, she declared that it would be “disastrous to try to roll back the Bolivarian Revolution”.

Opposition/MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable)

The drivers of that revolution were “still very much in power” for the former British ambassador. Catherine Nettleton underlined the need for the opposition to “prove themselves”. Advice for the opposition’s next move came from Ms Buxton saying they must not “assume they have free rein” and that they “run the risk…[of being] revanchist and revengeful”. John Paul Rathbone did feel though that the “country desperately needs some clear thinking”.

Next move

Security was raised by a fellow audience member as one area where the two sides could hope to find some common ground. Julia Buxton said that she felt the “military was still an important actor”.

Catherine Nettleton looked to the wider region to provide support for Venezuela and Ms Buxton weighed up whether the result was “a protest vote against the government or indicative of a deeper political shift”. She argued that “a strategy of co-existence, co-habitation and dialogue” was necessary. Mr Rathbone looked at the market reaction and left wondering if “the economy is going to be in a tougher place next year”.

Coral politics

The Maldives have elected a new president – after three previous attempts failed

How many elections does it take to choose a president in the Maldives? Four, apparently, after a destabilising campaign of annulled ballots, cancelled votes and political grand-standing from all sides. On Saturday 16 the final election produced a result that has been accepted by the victors and the defeated and can hopefully bring some calm back to the tiny country after 18 months of political unrest. Abdulla Yameen is the new man in charge but his empowerment comes after a nervy period dating back to February 2012 when the Maldives’ first democratically-elected leader, Mohammed Nasheed, stepped down after street protests followed the sacking of a top judge.

The upheaval was not officially seen as a coup, but the resulting election that culminated in the vote last week was a catalogue of strange electoral management:

7 September: Nasheed, who was imprisoned during the one-party rule that ended in 2008, won this vote with 45%, but that result was scrapped by the Supreme Court over voter list irregularities.

9 November: A re-run of the first go. This time around, Mr Nasheed actually increased his share of the vote from 45% to 47% but it was not enough for an outright victory.

10 November: A run-off election called for this day was again cancelled by the Supreme Court, which is dominated by judges from the 1978-2008 one-party regime.

16 November: The run-off was set for this date and, although Mr Nasheed won the first-round, Abdulla Yameen secured 51.6% of the votes in the second-round ballot and thus landed the presidency.

Although Yameen is new to the hot-seat he comes from a dynasty that is infamously linked to the Maldivian presidency. His half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the country for 30 years from 1978 in what has been criticised as a ‘dictatorial manner’ by rights groups. So is this a step backwards for the Asian archipelago? That is certainly the point of view that the defeated Nasheed takes, who fears sharia law is creeping into the Muslim nation and that the religious conservatism of the old guard could manifest itself again through the new leader. For his part, Yameen has pledged to get to work on trying to tackle the country’s high debt and lack of foreign currency reserves. Revised and reinvigorated economic policy would be welcome, but the new president would also like to see the death penalty implemented, a measure that is not such good news.

The mishandled lead-up to Saturday’s vote did not go unnoticed on the international stage. The Commonwealth threw the Maldives out of its disciplinary panel and the European Union hinted at a reaction if there was further unrest spilling out from another undecided or contested result. The other international side to the Maldives is its tourism sector, and nearly a million holidaymakers from across the world flew in last year.

Exactly how many honeymooning couples were aware or would have wanted to be aware of the political unrest is uncertain. What is undeniable is that their presence on the coral-fringed white-sand beaches and in the clear, green Indian Ocean waves is of the utmost importance to Malé. Tourism made up 38% of government revenue in 2012.

Abdulla got frosty with the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton over her warnings, saying “We will decide our own affairs”. That may be true, but while Western powers might seem a nuisance with their cautioning and judgements, their nationals are more than happy to jet in for a spot of secluded snorkelling off one of the country’s beautiful atolls. Mr Nasheed has respected the result, saying “we have the opportunity to show citizens how an opposition party that is loyal to the state works”. Mr Abdulla must provide clear, focused respect on the path ahead, and lashing out at the foreign powers whose people come up with a vital portion of his government’s coffers is not the best way to begin.

MEXICO ELECTION XIII – An organised outcome?

Mexicans appear to have elected the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency, alongside many state and local victories for the party. This blog is covering the results live from inside the country.

These men and women held impromptu debates in the Zócalo, the massive central Mexico City square, last night, as the polls were closing across the nation. They were not too happy about what they saw as the fixed outcome of the elections, even saying that, as a passer-by, I was a “witness and an accessory to this lousy fraud that is happening”.

And also the people have to organise themselves and go out, in all sectors of society, to fight for their rights, even if Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins the presidency. Be they students, peasants, workers, retired, mothers, women, everyone has to fight for their rights so that politics does not get a hold on those who will become the new MPs and senators, for they are people who have got to where they are in an obscure way. The people have to organise themselves on every level and fight, nothing more.

The people are asleep, they are still in bed, they have stopped waking up. Without our young protesters from the YoSoy132 movement, listen up we will be like slaves once again. We will be talking behind the oven, behind the mattress…but you know what friend? Listen to me please, I have a right to be heard, you have spoken, listen to me please, listen to me please, nothing more than a right to speak. You have to sort yourself out. Go on, go on. No he needs to sort himself out. Continue, continue! Only if he gives me permission…Continue, continue! Years ago, friends, the Mexican people stopped speaking to each other…this disunion that we have, in families, in neighbourhoods, in other places…it is time, friends, to awaken our consciences and we will all go together as our friends were saying, we will go together with the Mexican people to awaken and bring the country forward. Thanks a lot.

MEXICO ELECTION XII – Peña to the presidency

Mexicans have voted in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the results

A wide selection of exit polls, including the official one calculated by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), show that Enrique Peña Nieto has won the presidency for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 12 years in opposition. Voting predictions also paint Mexico overwhelmingly red, for the campaign colour of the PRI, in the local, state and federal elections that have also taken place.

In a televised address at 11.20pm, the head of the IFE, Leonardo Valdés Zurita, said that the more than 49m people who had cast a ballot made this the most ‘voted-for’ election in Mexican history. He gave the preliminary results, based on the IFE’s ‘conteo rápido’ system, as:

Josefina Vázquez Mota, from the National Action Party – between 25-27% of the vote

Enrique Peña Nieto, from the PRI-PVEM alliance – between 37-38% of the vote

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the PRD-PT-CM alliance – between 30-31% of the vote

Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, of the New Alliance party – about 2% of the vote

MEXICO ELECTION XI – Polling station and YoSoy132 camp

Voters outside a polling station in Tlatelolco neighbourhood, Mexico City

Official banners that hang outside each polling station

The #YoSoy132 movement’s main camp underneath the Monument to the Revolution

Huge YoSoy132 banner in square in front of camp

Message on banner in front of the YoSoy132 camp

‘We are all one’ message on YoSoy132 banner

‘Politicians – we are watching you’ – YoSoy132 food tent

MEXICO ELECTION X – The PRI’s Rebecca Black factor

Today Mexicans are going to the polls in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

As millions of people head to the voting booths, or casillas, to what extent will they have been influenced by social media and the parties’ online presence?

There are endless videos for and against all four candidates online. There are parodies, songs, criticisms and conspiracies but perhaps nothing is as surreal as the 14-year-old singer Rebecca Black declaring her support for the PRI, after being flown in by the PRI to the city of Cuernavaca, just south of the capital. This was seen as a bizarre attempt by Enrique Peña Nieto’s party to try to combat the rapid growth of the #YoSoy132 students’ movement viral success by rolling out a big YouTube name to show the party’s ‘youth touch’. It was heavily criticised and it is debatable whether or not the viral singer really knows what she signed up for:

Source: MiGueLPoRTeSMX

The use of online campaigning is a well-recognised technique in Europe and in the US but it is still a young method in Mexico. The parties have much preferred tried-and-trusted ‘wall painting’ as a way of connecting with the electorate. However, as you can see below, the governing National Action Party (PAN) has printed banners with links to this particular candidate’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. On one hand, this shows a recognition of the power of social media but, on the other hand, this will surely only be a successful venture in the cities.

The #YoSoy132 movement re-ignited the focus on an online agenda but, outside the metropolitan areas, the Mexican countryside is not really a hotbed of social media activity. With patchy connections to the Internet itself, let alone a political hashtag discussion, the drama of the online student movement has really only remained accessible to Internet-savvy voters. The results later today will show us whether or not it has had managed to move out and spread its message to the regular voter.

MEXICO ELECTION VIII – Upset still on the cards

Tomorrow, on Sunday 1 July, Mexico will hold a general election. This blog is covering the vote live from inside the country

If you were to use the opinion polls alone to choose a winner then Enrique Peña Nieto would have romped home even before he officially declared his candidacy. But if you look wider and harder it is possible to catch glimpses of hope for those wishing to knock the former Mexico State governor from his perch. Speaking with a woman last night in Jilotepec, she rubbished the telephone polls, saying that she never gave an answer when prompted by a calling pollster because “el voto es libre y secreto”. Her actions flew in the face of her own advice, as she told me of her belief that the parties know who has said what in each house and they “will punish you subtly if you say you will not vote for them, by cutting your electricity for example”.

Another woman I spoke to also wrote off the voter surveys. She is a PRD local activist though, so it does serve her party to maintain the hope that the race is still open and that their presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO, can still land Los Pinos tomorrow. But she accused the PRI of ‘acarreando’ its ‘supporters’, and that is an allegation I have heard a few times over the past days, even in the traditionally PRI, or priísta state. ‘Acarrear’ roughly translates as bussing people to your rally to inflate the numbers. In Jilotepec I am told all the PRI gives you in return for being driven to their meetings is ‘a sandwich and a piece of fruit – and the people only go because they want some free food’.

The PRD activist glows as she describes the big campaign closing events of last Wednesday. She says the governing party’s candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, filled the 49,000-seater Guadalajara Chivas football stadium of people who attended of their own accord. She denounces Peña Nieto for filling up national Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, which can hold 110,000 people, with ‘supposed supporters who were bussed in for free’. And she then visibly lights up as she recounts the PRD event. AMLO filled the capital’s massive central square and many side roads as well with more than one million people, all still believing that the man affectionately known as ‘Grandpa’ can swipe the presidency from under Peña Nieto’s nose. She firmly denies the PRD would ever ‘acarrear’.

She says many of the protesters in the #YoSoy132 movement have yet to decide who to choose. The activist gets excited by her own calculations – saying that the race is not over and that there could still be one of the biggest surprises in political history tomorrow. However, I found one reservation that some students in Mexico State have about their colleagues and the #YoSoy132 campaign. They are worried that the movement is being manouevred by hidden vested interests working behind the scenes. That may be true; with anti-PRI pro-PRD interests being the most likely to be involved in any such allegations.

But Mexican politics has functioned in a similar way before and even here in such a príista place the actions of the PRI in its 70-year rule as an autocracy – when election results were massaged – are not quickly forgotten. Some quarters see the coronation of Enrique Peña Nieto as imminent and inevitable and it is still likely that he will win. But you cannot deny that there is simmering belief that the PRI can be defeated once again, even if such a result is unlikely. Hasta mañana.