by Gonzalo Ortiz, 05 May 2011.
Source: IPS News.
Pollsters predict that a majority of voters in Ecuador will approve a package of reforms backed by leftwing President Rafael Correa, in a May 7 referendum that has further polarised the population.
Spokespersons for Consult Marketing Solutions, Informe Confidencial, Perfiles de Opinión and Opinión Pública Ecuador informed IPS that between 51 and 60 percent of respondents were in favour of the proposed reforms. The results of the opinion polls were provided to foreign correspondents for publication outside the country, due to the ban on releasing pre-election poll results in Ecuador.
Voting is compulsory in this South American country except for those over 65 or between the ages of 16 and 18. The pollsters estimate that at least 2.7 million of the country's 11.2 million registered voters will not cast ballots on Saturday.
Five of the 10 questions in the referendum would amend articles of the constitution, and the rest would require the passage of new laws, on a broad range of issues.
The first two questions would cancel the constitutional limit on the length of preventive detention when detainees purposely delay the judicial process through legal manoeuvres, and would regulate alternatives to remand custody.
The third question asks voters whether they want to amend the constitution to limit private banks to owning companies only in the financial sector and to forbid private media companies from participating in economic ventures in other areas. The aim is to prevent conflicts of interest.
The fourth would create a "transitional" council of the judiciary, made up of one member appointed by the government, another by the legislature, and a third by the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control, a fourth branch of the state.
The transitional council would have 18 months to completely overhaul the judicial system, which is widely seen as corrupt.
The fifth question would permanently modify the make-up of the council of the judiciary, whose functions include the appointment of judges. The council would no longer solely be made up of members of the judicial system, but would include delegates of the other branches of the state.
The opposition argues that these measures would make it possible for the president to limit the independence of the courts, while Correa says they would make the judiciary more efficient and curtail corruption.
In the sixth question, voters will be asked whether the country's single-chamber parliament should pass a law to criminalise the illegal acquisition of wealth by individuals in the private sector. Illicit enrichment is already classified as a crime in the public sector.
Casinos and gambling in general would be banned if voters approve the seventh question, and the mistreatment and killing of animals for entertainment, as in bullfighting and cockfighting, would be made illegal by the eighth item.
The ninth question asks voters whether the legislature should pass a law that would create a media regulatory council to monitor violent, explicitly sexual or discriminatory content in broadcast and print media, in order to establish responsibility by communicators or media outlets.
The tenth question would make it a crime for employers not to register their employees in the Social Security Institute.
The polling companies all found the highest level of public support for this last point, with between 60 and 70 percent of respondents saying they would vote "yes" on question 10.
More than 54 percent of those interviewed by Consult Marketing Solutions said they would vote the same way on all questions, whether "yes" or "no", Blasco Moscoso, the director of the polling firm, told foreign correspondents.
Another 30 percent said they would vote "yes" to some questions and "no" to others.
Between seven and 12 percent of respondents said they were undecided, according to the different pollsters, who rule out any surprise in the results, however.
"The undecided voters are mainly people who never listen to news on the radio or watch the news on TV, and do not even read the newspapers that are handed out for free in bus, train and subway stations," said Santiago Pérez, director of Opinión Pública Ecuador.
The poor are still the government's main support base. The pollsters say Correa has lost the middle and upper classes of Quito, the country's second-largest city, who had backed him in the 2006 and 2009 presidential elections, in the vote for the constituent assembly that rewrote the constitution, and in the referendum in which the new constitution was approved.
"I wouldn't say he has lost them, but I would agree that there is a higher proportion among those classes who now reject Correa," said Pérez. "There is an ethical and aesthetic condemnation of the president, which conceals an underlying question: that there are no concrete benefits for these classes in the current government."
The only question to be decided by voters of each specific province is the ban on public events involving the killing of animals. Off-the-record, some pollsters said question eight might be rejected in Quito and some other areas with strong bullfighting or cockfighting traditions.
The experts say they found no distinguishable voting patterns along gender or age lines, and they point out that Ecuador is a geographically and culturally diverse country, with Amazon rainforest, Andean highlands and coastal lowlands, and a mestizo or mixed-race majority, a large Amerindian minority, and small white, black and Asian minorities.
They explained that a referendum in Ecuador is different than a vote in countries like Uruguay or Costa Rica, which have much more homogeneous populations, and where polls carried out among small samples have higher statistical significance. In Ecuador, polling is more complex, due to the different provincial and regional breakdowns of the population, the pollsters said.
While many observers are describing the referendum as a key test of confidence in the Correa administration, Pérez believes there are people who are interested in the specific content of each question, although the referendum form has lengthy annexes "which 90 percent of the population hasn't read, and won't read," according to Moscoso.
"To portray the referendum as a survey on Correa's popularity reflects a mistaken and incomplete interpretation," said Pérez, whose polling company is generally seen as the government's favourite.
According to his firm, Opinión Pública Ecuador, 28 percent of respondents have taken an interest in the questions and will vote on the basis of whether each one is good for them, their families or the country. Only 25 percent do not care about the content of the referendum, another 25 percent will vote "yes" to support Correa, and 14 percent will vote "no" to punish him, the polling firm found.
The campaign, in which Correa and his party have been very active, while the opposition has been fragmented, ends Thursday.