In February, 15.7 million Ecuadorians will head to the polls in a first round to elect a new President, Vice-President and National Assembly. Here’s what you need to know.
How does Ecuador’s democratic system work?
The country’s first democratic presidential election took place in 1979, when Jamie Roldos Aguilera took office as Ecuador’s 33rd President. Today, the President and Vice-President (executive) are elected in two rounds of voting by a popular vote held every four years. The National Assembly (legislature) is elected at the same time and is formed of 137 members.
Who’s contesting the election?
Incumbent President and social democrat PAIS Alliance leader Lenin Moreno (2017- present) is not seeking re-election. Instead, his party has placed Ximena Pena at the top of their ticket. Pena has represented Ecuadorians abroad in America and Canada since 2013. Her main rival, the centre-right Creating Opportunities Party, has put forward Guillermo Lasso. Lasso came a close second in 2017, having taken 48.84% of votes in the final round. Next month, Lasso has the added endorsement of Ecuador’s third largest party in the National Assembly — the (centre-right) Social Christian Party.
Rafael Correa, Moreno’s popular predecessor and former running mate had intended to contest the vice-presidency. However, Ecuador’s Criminal Court found him guilty of bribery whilst in office and sentenced him ‘in absentia’ to eight years imprisonment. The court further banned Correa from seeking office for twenty-five years, by which time he will be eight-one years old. The ruling was guaranteed by Moreno’s additional powers over judicial appointments, approved by a public referendum in 2018.
What are the major issues?
The economy — stupid! As with all countries, Ecuador’s economy was hit hard by the initial Covid outbreak. In fact, it was the first country in Latin America to face a severe outbreak of the virus. The government declared a State of Emergency in March and drafted in the military to enforce social distancing measures in public places. The original State of Emergency ended in September, but was reimposed shortly before Christmas. Politicians are concerned that the dual shock of low oil demand and tax receipts will limit the ability of the next government to kickstart the economy. Oil accounts for 40% of Ecuador’s exports. On 20th April last year, the global price for oil turned negative.
Another significant issue in this election is political unrest. President Moreno now consistently polls below 10%. This comes after almost two weeks of demonstrations in October 2019 against the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies. Over one-thousand were detailed by the authorities, thirteen-hundred were injured and eight died. Though Moreno had initially refused to negotiate with demonstrators, he conceded after a curfew order went largely ignored and participated in a four hour televised negotiation, brokered by the United Nations.
The fuel subsidies were restored.
To entrench his position, President Moreno has for the past three years, significantly altered the role of the executive, its semi-merger with the judiciary and hold over the legislature. No doubt Ecuadorians will consider whether this new arrangement should represent a permanent change to the country’s constitutional arrangement, or be reversed by another referendum.
Internationally, Moreno’s administration is known for having withdrawn their support and protection of Australian Wikileaks activist Julian Assange. Correa’s offer of sanctuary to Assange in 2012 has since strained the relationship between Ecuador and the UK. During his premiership, Moreno has focused on thawing relations with the United States and advancing economic and institutional ties with South Korea.
What’s the likely outcome?
Moreno’s former rival Guillermo Lasso is most likely to win. Correa is by far the preferred candidate of the progressive left, but with him off the ballot in addition to further administrative barriers for his party, the Citizen Revolution Movement, it seems the momentum this time is with the centre-right. This view is underpinned by the decision of the Social Christian Party and Creating Opportunities Party to put forward a joint candidate.
As a former banker and businessman, Lasso’s election is likely to calm the markets, but is unlikely to cool the temperature of domestic politics. With many voters already convinced that politicians have been bought by big business, his popular promotion of free speech and a free judiciary comes with a hefty price tag of further economic liberalisation and government deregulation.
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