Two presidential previews

Two South American countries go to the polls on Sunday. One is a straight head-to-head contest, the other is insanely complicated.

Ecuador

The first round of Ecuador’s presidential election, held two months ago, was a major upset. Leftist candidate Andrés Arauz led by 13 points, much more than the opinion polls had suggested, and his centre-right opponent, Guillermo Lasso, only just scraped in to second place, three-tenths of a percentage point ahead of indigenous activist Yaku Pérez.

So Arauz and Lasso will contest the runoff on Sunday. It’s expected to be very close, although most polling gives Arauz a slight lead. Most of the unsuccessful candidates have endorsed Lasso, including fourth-placed Xavier Hervas, who had 15.7% in the first round. Pérez has refused to endorse either candidate, although his running mate is supporting Lasso.

There’s clearly a concern, even among those (like Hervas) who come from the left, that a victory for Arauz would mean a return to the authoritarian ways of his ally, former president Rafael Correa. If Arauz over-performs his polling the way he did in the first round, then we’ll certainly get to find out on that score. But if the polls are right, or (as I suspect) are just randomly unreliable, then Lasso is very much in with a chance.

Peru

While Ecuador is having its second round, neighboring Peru is having its first. Incumbent president Francisco Sagasti is the fourth to have held the job since the 2016 election; he took over last December, shortly after the dubious impeachment and removal of Martín Vizcarra. Sagasti is not seeking election (although he is vice-presidential candidate on one of the minor tickets), and the contest to replace him is wide open.

A runoff between the top two candidates, which will unquestionably be necessary, will be held on 6 June. Even in just the last fortnight of polling, seven different candidates (of a total of 18) have scored in the top two in one or more polls, and two more are polling at respectable levels. The front-runners include Hernando de Soto, a noted free-market economist; Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the authoritarian former president and runner-up in the last two elections; Yonhy Lescano, from the centre-left; Rafael López Aliaga, a Trumpist; and Verónika Mendoza, described by Americas Quarterly as “the only socially progressive leftist among the leading candidates.”

This extreme complexity results from the twisted nature of Peru’s recent political history, some of which I tried to summarise last year. Two-round elections in this sort of situation encourage tactical voting: left-wing voters, for example, would at all costs want to avoid having to choose between Fujimori and López Aliaga in the runoff, just as their right-wing counterparts would not want to see Lescano facing Mendoza. But the strong recent polling for de Soto, who doesn’t readily fit either category, makes that much more difficult.

A new legislature is to be chosen at the same time – 130 members, elected proportionally in multi-member districts with a 5% threshold – and no doubt it will be equally fragmented.

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