Election preview: Ecuador

Ecuador goes to the polls tomorrow (Monday in Australia) to elect a new president and legislature. If a second round of the presidential election is required, it will be held six weeks later, on 2 April.

Current president Rafael Correa is retiring after serving the constitutional maximum of two terms. In reality, Correa has served three terms – he was first elected at the end of 2006, making him the longest-serving president in Ecuador’s history – but the introduction of a new constitution in 2008 was held to have reset the clock. At the last election, in 2013, he won with 57.2% of the vote against just 22.7% for his nearest opponent, conservative Guillermo Lasso.

Compared to other radical leftist presidents such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, Correa has taken a lower profile and governed in a relatively moderate fashion. Although there have been some disturbing trends towards authoritarianism, democratic institutions remain intact, and Correa chose not to emulate some his counterparts by trying to extend his tenure of office – a move promoted by some of his supporters.

So the election will definitely bring change. The front-runner is former vice-president Lenín Moreno, who more recently has served as UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility (he has been a paraplegic since being shot in an armed robbery in 1998). Morena represents Correa’s party, the PAIS Alliance, but is seen as less radical. He faces seven opponents, but the main ones are Lasso, making a second attempt, and Cynthia Viteri, from the Social Christian Party (also centre-right, but somewhat more centrist).

Centre-left candidate Paco Moncayo seems to be the only other contender with serious support.

To avoid a runoff the leading candidate needs either to win more than 50% of the vote (unlikely), or to have more than 40% and be more than 10% clear of their nearest rival. The opinion polls show Morena within sight of the latter mark, but if he falls short it is possible that Lasso or Viteri would be able to overtake him in the second round. It so, it would confirm the continent’s shift to the right, visible from recent results in Peru and Argentina.

It’s not clear how much of a shift in actual policy that would involve – as in many places, policy tends to lag behind rhetoric. But one clearly signalled difference is that Lasso promises to evict Julian Assange from the country’s embassy in London. Although Moreno would be unlikely to do the same, all the signs are that the Ecuadorian government in general would be glad to be rid of him.

PAIS Alliance won a large majority in the legislature last time, with 100 of the 137 seats, partly as a result of changes to the electoral system that worked in its favor. (As is normal in the Americas, there is strict separation of powers.) No doubt that margin will be cut back, but if the opposition vote remains divided then they will have great difficulty garnering a majority.

Results should come in during the afternoon on Monday, Australian time. Last time the electoral council released early results based on sampling, which were very accurate – you can check (in Spanish) their website here.

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