What is at stake in Ecuador’s election?
by Marc Becker
The last year has been demoralizing for the Latin American left.
In November 2015, Mauricio Macri won election as president of Argentina on an openly neoliberal economic platform, ending twelve years of leftist rule in Argentina. Several weeks later, voters flipped control of Venezuela’s national assembly to a strident anti-Chávez but politically incoherent opposition that demanded the recall of president Nicolás Maduro. In the midst of a trumped up sex scandal, in February 2016 Bolivia’s first Indigenous president Evo Morales lost a referendum that would have allowed him to run for re-election in 2019. In Brazil, after two terms under the popular president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff faced a politically motivated impeachment from a conservative legislature that removed her from office in August 2016 on questionable charges. Her vice president Michel Temer moved quickly to undo thirteen years of progressive Workers Party (PT) policies. After a successful first time in office, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet faced very low poll numbers during her second term. Former rightwing president Sebastián Piñera appeared positioned to return to office in 2018.
In barely five years, the region has move an incredible distance from when the political scientist Emir Sader published The New Mole which featured a cover with the continent awash in red.
It is in this context that Ecuadorians are going to the polls on February 19. The investigator Atilio Boron has compared the election to the Battle of Stalingrad in terms of whether it will stem the conservative restoration that appears to be sweeping across the region.
After a successful 10-year run in office, the popular president Rafael Correa faces a constitutional ban on reelection. With him removed from the scene, conservatives are anticipating their best opportunity of regaining power since he took office in the midst of a rising pink tide.
Eight presidential candidates are competing in next Sunday’s election. As was common before Correa’s emergence, with so many competitors it is doubtful that any of them will win outright. To avoid an April 2 runoff election, a candidate must either win a majority of the vote or 40 percent plus 10 points over the nearest contender.
Correa’s previous vice president Lenin Moreno leads in the polls as the candidate of the Alianza Pais (AP). Moreno vows to carry on Correa’s social programs, but the soft-spoken politician lacks his mentor’s charisma. Correa’s current vice president Jorge Glas is running again for that position. Glas has constantly dodged charges of plagiarism and corruption. Unlike Moreno, who is confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a mugging and enjoys a high level of respect, Glas strikes many as an opportunistic politician.
Behind Moreno are two conservative candidates, Guillermo Lasso and Cynthia Viteri.
Lasso is a conservative banker and former economy minister who was implicated in the country’s previous economic meltdown under neoliberal governance. He is the candidate of an alliance between two rightwing parties, Creating Opportunities (CREO) and United Society More Action (SUMA). He is campaigning on promises to return Ecuador to its previous neoliberal governance. Four years ago Lasso lost to Correa in a landslide, but he has launched a stronger campaign against Moreno.
Viteri is a rightwing lawyer who is the candidate of the Social Christian Party. She is a protégé of the current mayor of Guayaquil Jaime Nebot, one of Correa’s most stringent critics. She has run before for the presidency, and is currently polling higher than in her previous attempts.
According to electoral polls, together Lasso and Viteri have more support than Moreno. This has led some analysts to assume that one of them would defeat Moreno in a second round. Ecuador’s rightwing has long been deeply fractured, however, and it is questionable whether they would be able to unify their forces.
In fourth place is the popular general and former mayor of Quito Paco Moncayo. He is from the traditional social democratic party Democratic Left (ID). The center left Indigenous-supported political party Pachakutik also backs his candidacy. His policy proposals are not that different from those of Moreno, but he draws support Indigenous and environmental activists who have been alienated from Correa’s authoritarian policies that have sought to develop Ecuador’s economy based on the extraction of natural resources.
An open question is whether Correa has so alienated those to his left that they will support Lasso in the second round rather than favoring a continuation of Alianza Pais in government. A return to Lasso’s neoliberal economic policies would be a tragedy, not only for Ecuador but also for the region as a whole.