Ecuador election goes down to the wire, but final outcome is in no doubt

. Feb 08, 2021
andrés arauz ecuador elections president Leftist candidate Andrés Arauz finishes the first round in Ecuador as the clearcut favorite. Photo: Twitter/@ecuarauz

After ruling Ecuador for a decade and being convicted of graft, Rafael Correa lost his political rights and is currently exiled in Belgium. Still, his presence loomed large in the country’s presidential election on Sunday. For the top three candidates in the race, a key part of their platform concerned their stance on the former president — and early results show just how much influence he still wields over the Andean nation. Mr. Correa’s protégé, left-leaning economist Andrés Arauz emerged from Sunday’s first-round election as the head-and-shoulders favorite to win the April 11 runoff, gathering almost one-third of the votes.

At this point, only a momentous shift in opinion would prevent Mr. Arauz from winning the presidency and re-establishing the Correa legacy in Ecuador. However, question marks remain over who he will be facing in April 11’s second round.

</p> <p>With almost 98 percent of ballots tabulated, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso and indigenous leader Yaku Pérez are neck and neck for second place. As things stand, the difference between the two is a mere 15,000 votes.</p> <p>Ahead by a hair&#8217;s breadth is Yaku Pérez, the 51-year-old representative of the indigenous Kichwa-Kañari ethnic group who took part in a series of <a href="">massive anti-austerity protests</a> in 2019. A union leader with ties to agricultural workers, Mr. Pérez plans to launch credit lines for small farmers and <a href="">revise all of Ecuador&#8217;s oil contracts with China</a>. He also hopes to implement a <a href="">universal basic income</a> system in the country, after the coronavirus pandemic brought the livelihoods of millions into jeopardy.</p> <p>Breathing down Mr. Pérez&#8217;s neck is Guillermo Lasso, in what is his third attempt to win the presidency. A dyed-in-the-wool conservative, he promises to break with Ecuador&#8217;s left-leaning economics and create 2 million jobs through tax cuts, but without major austerity measures. Indeed, Mr. Lasso&#8217;s 2021 platform is largely a rehashed version of his 2013 campaign, when he finished second to Rafael Correa.</p> <p>Regardless of who makes it to the second round, however, they should expect a landslide defeat at the hands of Andrés Arauz.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="750" src="" alt="Ecuador Indigenous Yaku Pérez had a surprising performance and fights for a spot in the runoff stage. Photo: Irene Uke/Shutterstock" class="wp-image-56343" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Indigenous Yaku Pérez had a surprising performance and fights for a spot in the runoff stage. Photo: Irene Uke/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <h2>Correa still wields power in Ecuador</h2> <p>Elected president in 2007, Mr. Correa was part of South America&#8217;s so-called <a href="">Pink Tide</a>, when left-wing and center-left leaders scored big election wins across the continent. Benefiting from a once-in-a-lifetime commodities boom, these leaders beefed up social policies, oversaw a massive reduction of poverty and unemployment rates, and in some cases became larger-than-life figures with massive followings.</p> <p>As was the case with many of his contemporaries, Mr. Correa left office in 2017 with massive approval ratings, after lifting 1.3 million people out of poverty. Mr. Correa&#8217;s popularity allowed him <a href="">to elect his successor</a>: current President Lenín Moreno.&nbsp;</p> <p>His plan for uninterrupted hegemony backfired, however, and the two men became bitter rivals. As Mr. Correa faced trial in absentia for graft charges, he accused his former ally of &#8220;betrayal&#8221; and &#8220;lawfare.&#8221; In return, Mr. Moreno&#8217;s administration tried to include the former president&#8217;s name on <a href="">Interpol&#8217;s Red Notice of fugitives</a> and removed the legal protections Mr. Correa had granted to <a href="">WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange</a>.</p> <p>Now, with Andrés Arauz on the verge of victory, Mr. Correa is poised for a return to power by proxy — and will be hoping for a different outcome this time around.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/5233905"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Governing Ecuador is no easy task</h2> <p>The Moreno years will not be missed by Ecuadorians. His term was marred by capital flight, recession, and decreasing economic activity. According to the World Bank, Ecuador’s GDP growth rate dropped from 2.3 percent in 2017 to just 0.05 percent two years later.</p> <p>In 2019, the country <a href="">erupted in riots</a> after the government canceled state subsidies on fuel prices in order to fulfill requests for austerity measures by the International Monetary Fund, in exchange for a USD 10-billion loan (which represents roughly 4 percent of the country&#8217;s GDP).</p> <p>The following year, Ecuador became one of the world&#8217;s <a href="">biggest coronavirus hotbeds</a>. The port city of Guayaquil endured harrowing scenes as authorities struggled to deal with a massive amount of Covid-19 deaths. A shortage of graves meant dozens of corpses were simply <a href="">abandoned on the city&#8217;s streets</a>.</p> <p>Mr. Moreno&#8217;s popularity dropped to just 8 percent as the pandemic took hold, ending any possibility of re-election. The country that he leaves behind will be fraught with challenges for his successor.</p> <p>A <a href="">serial defaulter</a>, Ecuador restructured a USD 17.4-billion debt last year and its total foreign debt amounts to USD 45.4 billion.</p> <p>The 36-year-old Andrés Arauz, who declares himself a post-Keynesian economist, plans to lift up the country with investment in infrastructure and education. He has kept himself faithful to the political group headed by Mr. Correa — which combines leftist policies with a healthy dose of realpolitik.</p> <p>But in order to effectively lead his country out of a generational crisis, the likely future president will have to emerge from Rafael Correa&#8217;s shadow and follow his own path. On the campaign trail, Mr. Arauz promised to slash interest rates, implement a progressive tax reform — which could take the form of a wealth tax, as have been introduced in <a href="">Argentina</a> and <a href="">Bolivia</a> — provide benefits to business owners, and place U.S. Dollars in ‘quarantine’ to prevent further currency flight.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mr. Arauz also promises to reestablish <a href="">regional integration</a> and improve a non-ideological diplomatic agenda, which could help Ecuador in the post-pandemic world.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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