The three levels of local government—province, canton, and parish—are controlled by the central government in a fundamentally unitary system. Ecuador has 20 continental provinces, plus the insular Galápagos Islands. The provincial governors, who are appointed by the president, are responsible to the interior ministry. Each province is divided into cantons, which in urban areas are administratively subordinate to the municipality with which they coincide. A municipal council is popularly elected and in turn elects its officers. In the larger towns, a mayor is popularly elected. The municipality is unique in that it lies somewhat outside the unitary pattern and is less subject to national control than are the other units of local government. The rural canton, of little importance in the sparsely populated Oriente and northern coast, is significant in the more developed regions of the highlands and the coastal provinces of Guayas and Manabí. The highest official of the canton, the political chief, is appointed by the president on the recommendation of the provincial governor.
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