All change in Ecuador

Reading time: 4 mins approx.

President Guillermo Lasso has called a snap election. On 17 May, Lasso’s invoking of the muerte cruzada, as it is commonly known, dissolved the National Assembly, curtailing impeachment proceedings running their course through the opposition-controlled legislative body. He is the first Ecuadorian president to do so after the mechanism’s addition to the country’s Constitution in 2008. Lasso will remain president until his successor takes over, and there is to be no legislative authority until the new Assembly is sworn in.

Contrasting cases like the UK, wherein a snap election signals the start of a new full term, Ecuador’s election is to complete Lasso’s initial term, due to conclude in May 2025. To complicate matters, Lasso will not run and nor will his political organization, CREO, field candidates to the Assembly. So, in December a completely different government will take over, and Ecuador will have two successive short-lived administrations: Lasso’s, for almost the rest of the year, and his successor’s for 17 months afterwards.

The first round of elections is scheduled for 20 August. Campaigning is yet to begin, but early polls have Luisa Gonzalez, candidate for the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana (RC), handily ahead of the pack.

RC is the political vehicle of Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president from 2007 to 2017, the longest-serving in the country’s history, and who in 2020 was convicted of leading a bribery network. Correa now lives in exile in Belgium, though remains popular in Ecuador. RC had the largest bloc in the dissolved National Assembly, and brought about the Lasso impeachment, on a charge of embezzlement, to drive the president to call the snap election. If results fall well for RC, Correa’s hand-picked candidate could be elected president and manage to have his conviction annulled, paving the way for his run for the presidency in 2025.

Correa and the organisations representing him since his exile advocate a leftist brand of populism, like that which drove to power figures such as the Kirchners in Argentina and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Their opponents, meanwhile, harbour fears that should Correa become president again he may move to install a form of dictatorship under constitutional trapping.

Opposition to a Correa return runs strong. In 2021, Andrés Arauz, a former government minister under Correa, won the first round handily, but the anti-Correa vote ultimately took Lasso to the presidency. Pundits believe that Gonzalez’, and by extension Correa’s, best chance is for her to win the election in its first round – by taking over 50% of valid votes, or, more likely, at least 40% with a ten-point lead over the runner-up. In a run-off, it is generally thought that whomever would be Gonzalez’ opponent would have the upper hand.

The next president could be any of seven other candidates, but none of the three polling highest after González are backed by a well-organized political organization.

Yaku Pérez barely missed the runoff in 2021 as presidential candidate for the Movimiento de Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik. He has since left that party, and is instead running on a green platform supported by Marxist parties. Pachakutik is Ecuador’s largest indigenist party, but will not field candidates in the snap elections due to infighting – although it has endorsed Pérez’ candidacy. It is unlikely that Pérez’ run for the presidency will be as strong as in 2021, in part as he will presumably lose a portion of the Indigenous vote that supported him then.

Fernando Villavicencio is a former Petroecuador union leader prominent in the opposition to Correa, who had to hide in the jungle to avoid being thrown in jail. He chaired the National Assembly’s Oversight Committee, which uncovered corruption cases in the Correa administration. Inasmuch as the main issue in the campaign is pro- and anti-Correa, Villavicencio may capitalise on the latter. He is expected to favour a larger role for state-owned corporations, though little else is known of Villavicencio’s political positions.

Otto Sonnenholzner was vice president of Lasso’s predecessor, Lenín Moreno, for 18 months in 2019-2020. Sonnenholzner’s family own a radio station, and his father-in-law controls Ecuador’s largest shrimp exporting business with sales of US$1B in 2022. His constituency is business and the middle class, and he may benefit from those groups’ mistrust of the economic management credentials of other leading candidates.

Violent crime is another issue expected to become a dominant one in this campaign. Ecuador, until very recently one of the most peaceful countries in South America, has seen an irruption of international drug cartels as Colombian drugs are exported through Ecuador’s ports. This could be a boon for Jan Topić, a self-described “outsider” running on a platform with shades of El Salvador’s Nayyib Bukele. His currently polling figures remain very low, however.

Ecuador’s next president will most likely come from this short list. He or she will have the unenviable task of tackling a soaring budget deficit, declining oil production, a wave of violent crime, and the looming prospect of a very strong El Niño cycle.

Walter Spurrier

Economic Analyst, with a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He is the Director of Political Economic report “Weekly Analysis” and also is president of Spurrier Group. Columnist of El Comercio and El Universo newspapers. In addition, he offers advice, talks, consultancies and studies in economic and political issues of the Ecuadorian reality. Currently he is the Advisor of Chamber of Industry and Regent of Casa Grande University.

This blog post was edited by Freddy Nevison-Andrews.

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