Ecuador decides this Sunday who will be its new president with a choice between two opposing political options in the midst of a severe economic and health crisis due to the pandemic.
Andrés Araúz and Guillermo Lasso they compete for victory in the second round to succeed Lenin Moreno in the presidential palace and they do it with conflicting visions.
Former banker Lasso, 65, is trying for the third time to reach the presidency with his political movement Creando Oportunidades (CREO), after being defeated by Rafael Correa in 2013 and by Moreno, the outgoing president, in 2017.
In front will be a disciple of Correa, the economist Andrés Arauz, candidate of Unión por la Esperanza (UNES), who wants to become the youngest president the country has had with his 36 years.
Both represent the two currents that have dominated Ecuadorian politics for more than a decade and they do so in a country that goes to the polls in the midst of a new wave of coronavirus infections that marks a difference with respect to the first electoral round.
“There is a marked increase in excess deaths and contagion numbers in relation to February 7; the waiting lists for intensive care beds are bursting while two months ago there was some flexibility,” he compared in a dialogue with BBC Mundo Esteban Ortiz, Specialist in Public Health of the UDLA (University of the Americas).
In that first round, Arauz obtained 32.72% of the votes while Lasso obtained 19.74%, barely surpassing Yaku perez, the candidate of the indigenous movement, and almost Xavier Hervas, a newcomer to Ecuadorian politics who led the Democratic Left team.
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And former President Correa appears to be the key man despite not being on the ballot.
“Once again the electoral arena has been divided between correistas and anticorreistas, there was not a replacement but a fight between good and bad, depending on which side one takes, and that wears politics a lot due to the levels of confrontation,” he told the BBC World Maria Angelica Abad, professor at the University of Cuenca.
The member of the Network of Political Scientists of Ecuador added that the candidates tried in recent weeks to call for unity to capture the votes that they did not obtain in the first round, but in parallel “there was a very dirty campaign that directly sought polarization.” .
The challenge ahead of the winner will be enormous.
Pedro Donoso, director of the Consultancy Icare for Communication and Political Analysis, points out that the electoral contest takes place in a framework of severe mistrust of the future:
“Never in Ecuadorian history have we seen the levels of pessimism that we are seeing now, not when three presidents fell or in the financial crisis of 99, and pessimism is a field where anything can be sown and happen.”
Donoso told BBC Mundo that, in his opinion, the current Moreno government “two years ago resigned to govern and did not manage social tensions, that is why the social fabric in this country is broken.”
In the only presidential debate in which Arauz and Lasso met, the candidates tried to distance themselves from the figure of the outgoing president due to the seriousness of the current situation, whose most worrying data was released before each contestant spoke.
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The Ecuadorian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted the 8% in 2020, the level of indebtedness exceeds 63% of the state budget, 4.9 million Ecuadorians earn less than the basic salary in their jobs and 477,000 are unemployed.
What’s more, one in four children in the country suffers from chronic child malnutrition.
Covid-19, for its part, has caused an excess of deaths year-on-year of 46,465 people and, according to Esteban Ortiz, “the management of vaccination has been totally wrong, with non-priority assignments that have been embarrassing.”
As Moreno was a Correa candidate in 2017, Lasso considers that Correismo has governed the last 14 years and that he is responsible for this legacy:
“Arauz is Correa’s son-in-law, like Lenín Moreno, they are political brothers; having personal problems is their concern, but that does not interest Ecuador,” Lasso told BBC Mundo during the electoral campaign.
For Correísmo, however, Moreno is a traitor who adopted neoliberal policies in his four years in office.
Arauz, who did not speak to the BBC during the campaign, accused Lasso and the Ecuadorian right in the debate of having bought the president: “You applauded Moreno’s betrayal, now assume the consequences.”
To get out of this situation, Lasso told BBC Mundo that he wants to promote public-private partnerships to attract both local and foreign investment:
“From May 25 [fecha en la que asumirá el ganador de las elecciones] the global oil sector will see the invitation that Ecuador will make to come and invest in joint venture contracts, and we will respect the contracts in the formal mining sector, processing environmental licenses with greater agility, to generate more tax revenues. “
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The CREO candidate’s goal is to target zero deficit in the medium term and create “at least two million jobs in four years of government.”
Arauz, for his part, considers in his campaign plan that a social agreement is “essential” to halt the drop in production and regain liquidity in the economy.
With regard to oil exploitation, the great economic asset of the country, the UNES program speaks of promoting the transition towards a post-oil economy “with emphasis on value-added sectors, seeking in this process a relative increase in the participation of manufacturing and of industries with high incorporation of knowledge and technology “.
It also mentions the improvement in employment levels, “at the same time that micro and small businesses are encouraged through simplified regimes and exemptions in tax levels.”
For these reforms, indicates the political scientist María Angélica Abad, both candidates require significant legislative support if they come to power.
“This forces them to talk with other political forces and those forces came to the Assembly showing themselves as a different option from Arauz and Lasso, so the governance panorama is complex,” he says.
Carlos Ferrín, a political communication consultant, tells BBC Mundo that if Correísmo reaches the presidency it will have a simpler scenario, because on February 7 it obtained with its allies almost 50 of the 137 assembly members.
“But if Lasso remains, he will have to negotiate with other blocs to confront that majority group of Correismo”, since CREO obtained 12 assembly members and its allies from the Social Christian Party achieved 19.
The other large legislative blocs belong to the parties that did not enter the second round, Pachakutik (27 legislators) and Izquierda Democrática (18), which have tried to form an independent bloc, a “third way” as defined by Ferrín.
The “third way” vote
Yaku Pérez, candidate of Pachakutik, the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), still thinks he should have been in the second round.
“With fraud I got 19% of the votes, without fraud I was left with 25%,” he told BBC Mundo.
Pérez, together with CONAIE, promotes this Sunday the null vote as a sign of protest and seeks to reach 20% of these votes (historically the invalid vote has not exceeded 12%).
“Neither of the two candidates includes our anti-activist proposals; neither do they have a serious proposal against corruption; they are unaware of the reality of the child population with malnutrition, and they have no idea how women are being mistreated,” he says.
But his crusade for a null vote is not easy. The president of CONAIE, Jaime Vargas, decided to support Arauz, and Pérez’s partner, Virna Cedeño, spoke out in favor of Lasso, which calls into question what will happen to the indigenous vote and to the cohesion of the legislative bloc of Pachakutik.
“I really aspire for the bloc to remain firm, but my gray hair makes me think that there may be a rout of some legislators; a lot will depend on who wins the elections,” said Pérez.
The fourth in the first round was Xavier Hervas, a man linked to the agricultural industry who became a candidate for the Democratic Left.
His party has released more than 15% of the voters who elected them in the first round. He has already stated that he will vote for Lasso.
“What I have done is to share, in a transparent way, how I am going to exercise my right to vote, the rights have to be inalienable and when you vote null or vote white you are renouncing your right to vote.”
What tips the balance?
For Javier Rodríguez Sandoval, an Ecuadorian sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States, the votes of the 14 pairs that did not reach the second round will go to Arauz, Lasso or will be null, depending on whether voters decide to choose between correísmo and anti-correctness or if they do it between left-right.
In other words, while for some voters the decision to vote will depend on their level of acceptance or rejection of former President Correa (207-2017), in others it will weigh the possibility or not of voting for a candidate who comes from the banking sector and promotes the market economy, as is the case with Lasso.
Although other issues crept into the electoral discussion, such as the fight against femicide, the inclusion of sexual minorities and the decriminalization of abortion in the case of rape, they were not the central axis of the campaigns.
What marks the election this Sunday is the economic and health crisis due to the pandemic, as well as the figure of former President Correa who is convicted of corruption and who from his residence in Europe chose Arauz as the continuation of his legacy, something with which that seeks to finish Lasso.
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