Last month, Ecuador had the first round of its presidential elections. The result was a run-off between a former Vice-President and member of the ruling party (Alianza Pais) Lenin Moreno and an opposition leader/banker Guillermo Lasso (CREO) which takes place today. (Featured Image © Presidencia de la Republica de Ecuador)
The outcome of this election is important for the country, because it represents a choice between continuing the Citizens Revolution at the hands of Moreno, which was started by current President Rafael Correa, or embracing a more right-wing approach as offered by Lasso. The run-off, is in that sense emblematic of the wider developments in the region, which has seen a retreat of leftist influence. Kirchner’s successor lost in Argentina, Rousseff was impeached in Brazil and Venezuela continues its economic/social/political crisis and steadily moves towards a dictatorship.
Ecuador is an interesting case because it was one of the most successful examples of Chavez-styled leftism.
Ecuador is an interesting case because it was one of the most successful examples of Chavez-styled leftism. Unlike Chavez, Correa, a trained economist, has a decent understanding of how the economy works and managed to upgrade a lot of the infrastructure and governmental services. The economy grew rapidly under his guidance but it was mostly stimulated by the government. The result was ballooning government expenditures and increased reliance on oil revenue and foreign (mostly Chinese) debt. The unexpected fall in oil revenue forced the government to lay off workers and induced a country-wide recession, while the major earthquake last year only made things worse.
The economy was shrinking for the last two years, but is on the better hand now. Unemployment has been steadily decreasing, from a peak of 7,2 % in January 2016. The current number of around 5% is still relatively low compared to neighboring Colombia and Peru, although the quality of work is suboptimal for a large part of the active population. Relatively many people work in agriculture, while producing very little. The share of highly educated people is also relatively low (26%) but the tertiary educated people make up 25% of the unemployed.
Therefore, both Moreno and Lasso hammer on the need for more jobs and especially more well-paid middle class jobs. Lasso goes further by promising to create one million jobs over four years! In addition, he proposes to abolish many of the taxes and capital restraints that Correa imposed. Whether Correa’s measures have turned out for the good for the country is still up for debate. What is for sure, however, is that they are immensely unpopular with the richer and more liberal elites.
The Most Hated/Loved President
The opposition against Correa has always been widespread and vocal. Especially wealthier Ecuadorians living in Quito and Guayaquil have vented their disapproval of the President on social media, like Facebook. In general, opposition has taken to social media, as freedom of the press has been gravely reduced by the government. During the elections, opponents were mostly sharing short videos with “proofs” of corruption, malpractice or lies. The sources, however, were often dubious, or not mentioned at all.
Ecuador is still one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the government is seen by many as one of the centers of corruption.
While critical thinking is often lacking in the public sphere, the sentiment is somehow understandable. Ecuador is still one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the government is seen by many as one of the centers of corruption. The recent Odebrecht scandal, which brought to light that the Brazilian contractor Odebrecht paid 35.5 million dollars in bribes to government officials, only worsened this perception and served as a further confirmation to many.
A Binary Choice
The conviction that Correa’s government equals corruption means that voting for him is presented as a vote in favor of the continuation of corrupt practices and “economic misgovernance”. The latter claim is related to Correa’s sympathy for the late Chavez and his Bolivarian Venezuela. The Venezuelan crisis is often presented as a likely future for Ecuador if Alianza Pais stays in power, as their economic policies bear some similarities.
The sympathy of the Ecuadorian government for Venezuela was to many again confirmed by the fact that Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, was not allowed to enter the country on March 15. Tintori tried to enter Ecuador on a tourist visa, but was denied entry because she was coming to throw her support behind Guillermo Lasso. After this incident, Lasso even stated that “Venezuela is, just like Ecuador, a country under a political dictatorship.”
For many, Lasso presents a vote of protest, rather than a positive choice.
Correa’s arrogant style has often been dubbed dictatorial and always divided the country. Correa is notoriously thin-skinned, up to the point that John Oliver dedicated a section to him and his bashing of criticasters on national television. Yet, Correa and his Citizens Revolution have a large fan base supporting him. Those are the same people now voting to elect Moreno. While Correa’s Alianza Pais is bound to remain the largest party in the national assembly, it will lose some of its power.
The binary nature of the elections, either for Correa and his Alianza Pais or against him, has tremendously helped Lasso. He runs on his acumen as the president of one of the country’s largest banks and the fact that he was governor of the coastal province of Guayas as well as minister of economy during the 1999 financial crisis. His campaign is mostly based on cutting taxes and the assumption that his neo-liberal policies will bring back foreign investment. Nonetheless, there is very little evidence that his plan would work.
For many, Lasso presents a vote of protest, rather than a positive choice. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, many people will distrust it, especially if Moreno wins.