Ecuador elections: sufragus interruptus

On February, 19, Ecuadorians went to the polls to elect a new National Assembly and a new president. They were to decide on the continuity of Correísmo or change. Español

Gerard Coffey
21 February 2017

The presidential candidate of the ruling PAIS Alliance party Lenin Moreno (C, Front) speaks during a press conference in Quito, capital of Ecuador, on Feb. 20, 2017. Xinhua SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Sufgragus interruptus you could call it, although there was not much pleasure to be had, just a lot of adrenalin. And, in the end, no definite result, merely a promise that we will know within three days. Electoral Kundalini perhaps.

Some things are clear though: Lenin Moreno, the ruling party’s candidate, won a clear first round victory, more than ten percent in front of his main rival, banker Guillermo Lasso. The win was expected; on that, at least, the myriad polls agreed. The difficulty for Moreno is that there are still votes to come in from outside the country that could tip the balance: he is still slightly short of the 40% needed to avoid a run-off. And it is a second round that he would rather avoid, and one that his nearest challenger would dearly welcome.

The plain numbers do not seem to favour Moreno’s chances in a direct fight against Lasso. The third place finisher, Cynthia Viteri, is also a right winger and somewhat surprisingly perhaps, given the virtual war between the two main right organisations, immediately promised her support for Lasso. The transfer of votes is of course not that simple, but even so, it must have Moreno’s Alianza País strategists concerned. It might be expected that he could count on at least some of the votes garnered by the fourth place finisher, Paco Moncayo, the leader and candidate of the Democratic Left, but the former general has declined to support either candidate. Many on the hard left who supported him are also highly critical of Rafael Correa and unlikely to vote for Moreno.

Moncayo did not fare as well as the left had hoped, running a dull campaign and polling slightly less than 7% of the vote - admittedly double that of the last left wing candidate, Alberto Acosta, but hardly earth shattering. His party fared little better, also finishing a poor fourth in the parliamentary elections, although it remains to be seen what that means in numbers of elected members of the National Assembly. Moncayo’s two main allies, Pachakutik, and Unidad Popular, appear to have virtually disappeared from the map.

That may not be surprising in the case of Pachakutik, the party founded to fight for Indigenous rights whose internal rifts are notable; one of its leading lights, Salvador Quishpe, even transferring his support to Lasso. Defining just what are indigenous rights is evidently not as simple as it was 25 years ago.  The case of Unidad Popular, a new party born of the ashes of the old Marxist Leninist dominated Popular Democratic Movement (MPD) is more difficult to understand. It may be that in a fight dominated by pro and anti Correa forces, the left in general suffered, given that Alianza País has positioned itself as ‘the’ progressive (i.e. left) party in the minds of the majority of the population. The far left never really managed to get into the hunt.

What happens now is relatively easy to predict. If Moreno manages to overcome the 40% barrier, the claims of fraud will be loud and recurring, above all because to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Ecuadorian political scene, it is obvious that the National Electoral Commission is controlled by the government. However, that may not be a factor in a presidential election closely scrutinized by both internal and external observers - the temptation may be great but the opportunity is clearly small. Nonetheless, that is unlikely to bother the right wing opposition.

If, on the other, hand Moreno manages to win a second round but with a small margin, we can expect both claims of fraud and a destabilization campaign from day one, sponsored by the same forces that are at work in Venezuela. Ecuador is not as polarized as Venezuela, fortunately, but that does not mean we won’t see the same type of tactics here.

 If Lasso wins, we can expect a repeat of the story in Argentina.

It is hardly a pretty picture.

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