The constitution guarantees the right of democratic activities of political parties. A party must gain a minimum of five percent of the vote to remain in the electoral registry and retain its legal standing. The 1998 constitution also allows candidates without party affiliation or party backing to run for office. It also makes it the responsibility of the government to promote equal participation of men and women in politics. There are currently some 20 parties active in Ecuadorian politics.
Two major parties played dominant roles prior to the 1960s. The Conservative Party (Partido Conservador—PC), which held sway during the first half of the republic's history, was the political representative for the Roman Catholic Church, and its support came from the large landowners of the highlands. The principal opposition, the Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical—PLR), which rose to power in the revolution of 1895, was supported by businessmen and the newer city elite. It sought scrupulous separation of church and state, especially in public education, and called for the development of industry and the attraction of foreign capital.
Modern parties on the right include the Social Christian Party (PSC), the Republican Unity Party (PUR), and the Ecuadorian Conservative Party (PCE). On the left are the Democratic Left (ID), linked to the Social Democratic Movement; the Popular Democracy Party (DP) of former President Hurtado; the traditional Ecuadorian Radical Liberal Party (PLRE); and the Radical Alfarista Front (FRA).
Ecuador's populist tradition has given rise to many parties, organized along highly personalist lines, such as the Roldista Party (PRE), formerly headed by Abdalá Bucaram, the Popular Revolutionary Action (APRE), and the Concentration of Popular Forces (CFP).
The far left in Ecuador has been beset by factionalism and governmental intrusion. In the 1920s, the original Socialist Party of Ecuador split into the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. Further splits occurred with the advent of the Cuban revolution. Currently, the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD), the Ecuadorian Socialist Party (PSE), and other parties vie for the non-Communist vote. Communists are divided between the Communist Party of Ecuador (PCE), which is identified as a pro-North Korean faction; and the Communist Party of Ecuador/Marxist-Leninist (PCMLE), which is identified as Maoist.
In the 1996 national elections, an indigenous electoral movement called Pachakutik (Quichua for "cataclysmic change") sponsored candidates for offices on the national, provincial, and local levels. Pachakutik candidates won eight seats in Congress as well as several mayoral positions in cities throughout the country. Their successes, although small on the overall national scale, increased the voice of indigenous peoples in Ecuadorian politics and prodded the traditional political parties to give more attention to long-neglected indigenous concerns. Lucio Gutiérrez allied with Pachakutik for the 2002 election and appointed some of that party's leaders to his cabinet. But the influence of the indigenous movement has been limited by Gutiérrez's personalist leadership and the party's limited political power resulting from its small parliamentary delegation.
In the most recent election in October 2002, 14 different parties won seats in the legislature. The PSC remained as the largest party, but it only captured 24 seats in the 100-member chamber. Lucio Gutiérrez's parties captured less than 10 seats. The persistent problem of weak political parties and personalist leadership by populist politicians has worsened in recent years. During the last decade, two presidents could not finish their constitutional terms.