Understanding the upcoming general elections in Ecuador

Ahead of the general elections in Ecuador on February 7, we look at the leading candidates, their backgrounds and their answers to the major crises the country is facing today

January 15, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
Andrés Arauz, Guillermo Lasso and Yaku Pérez are the leading candidates in Ecuador’s presidential elections. Photo: Pichincha Comunicaciones

Ecuador is set to hold general elections on February 7. Over 13 million Ecuadorians in the country and abroad will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president, vice-president and 137 legislators, as well as five members of the Andean Parliament for the period 2021-2025.

According to the Ecuadorian constitution, in order to win the presidential election in the first round, the front-runner has to obtain more than 50% of the votes or more than 40% of the votes with a 10% lead over the runner-up. In case no candidate manages a clear victory, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates on April 11.

As established in the constitution, the new head of state will take office on May 24, the Ecuadorian Independence Day, while the newly elected legislators will be sworn in on May 14.

Currently, the candidates from different political parties are carrying out their respective election campaigns across country. The election campaign officially began on December 31 and will end on February 4.

Who are the leading candidates in the presidential elections?

A record number of 16 candidates are contesting in the presidential elections. The sheer number can be largely attributed to the opening up of a public Elections Fund which many aspiring politicians are taking advantage of to raise their profiles. The candidates who are polling above 10% according to various opinion polls on voting intention include Andrés Arauz of the progressive Union for Hope (UNES), an alliance made up of left-wing Democratic Center and Social Commitment Force parties; Yaku Pérez of the Indigenous Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement party; and Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creating Opportunities  ( CREO) party and Social Christian Party (PSC).

Andrés Arauz is a protégé of former President Rafael Correa. 35-year-old Arauz is an economist and he served the country in various positions during Correa’s government (2007-2017). He was the Minister of Culture at the end of Correa’s second term and the Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent between March 2015 and 2017. In addition, he also served as the Director of the Central Bank of Ecuador between 2011 and 2013.

Correa still enjoys strong popular support in the country. His rule was characterized by large-scale social welfare programs and public infrastructure projects. During his 10-year tenure, Ecuador’s economy saw an average annual growth of about 3%. Experts suggest that Correista voters may see Arauz as a return to the good times of Correa’s decade in office.

Yaku Pérez is an Indigenous environmentalist. 51-year-old Pérez hails from Cuenca, a city in the Azuay province in southern Ecuador. He served as the prefect of the province, a position he had to resign before running for presidency. He led struggles to protect water and limit mining activities in the region. Due to his efforts, a popular referendum to decide on mining in Cuenca will be held alongside the general elections. Due to his pro-environmental stance, he could gain support from sections of the Indigenous communities and environmentalists.

Guillermo Lasso is a conservative banking millionaire. 65-year-old Lasso served the government first when he was appointed as the governor of the Guayas province in 1998, then as an interim economic minister in 1999. This is his third bid to become president. In 2013, he bagged the second highest number of votes after Correa who won a second term with more than 57% of the votes. In 2017, he lost to Lenin Moreno in the second round.

Lasso has more recognition this time than he has in 2017. He also has the support of business elites, social conservatives and other anti-Correista corporates.

What do the opinion polls say?

Various opinion polls suggest that Andrés Arauz and his running mate Carlos Rabascall are the preferred candidates in the general elections. Meanwhile, right-wing and corporate pollsters, which haven’t consulted workers, peasants and Indigenous people, show Arauz in a close race with Lasso, with neither of them having enough support to win in the first round.

According to the last opinion poll conducted by the Latin American Strategic Centre for Geopolitics (CELAG) between November 25 and December 13, 2020, in 40 locations in 19 provinces of the country, Arauz is leading the voting intention with 36.5% of the votes. He is followed by businessman Álvaro Noboa of the right-wing Social Justice Movement (MJS) party with 22.9% of the votes. Noboa’s candidacy remains unresolved due to delays in the registration by the National Electoral Council (CNE) and ballot papers are being printed without the inclusion of his name as a presidential candidate. In the third place is Yaku Pérez with 21.2% of the votes. Guillermo Lasso is placed fourth with only 13.6% of the votes. All the other candidates contesting in the elections do not exceed 1.5% of the votes.

What are some of the main challenges for the incoming government?

Ecuador is witnessing an extremely severe economic recession, caused by mismanagement on the part of President Lenin Moreno’s government and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreno’s anti-people, pro-corporate, neoliberal policies have forced a large section of the population to resort to loans to be able to meet their daily expenses. Moreno’s popularity rating has crashed to single digits. He is not running for re-election, but even the candidate he has endorsed, Ximena Peña, according to the CELAG’s opinion poll, only has the support of 1.2% of the voters.

In addition to the economic crisis, the country is also facing a health crisis. The coronavirus is spreading in all the 24 provinces. Ecuador is registering over 1,000 positive COVID-19 cases per day, with an increased demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

Additionally, Moreno himself and several of his ministers and officials are being investigated for various corruption cases.

The incoming government faces the challenge of alleviating the economic crisis, generating employment opportunities, improving healthcare and keeping a check on corruption, among various other issues.

How do candidates plan to address the crisis facing the country?

During the campaign inaugural event of the UNES on January 11, Arauz reiterated his commitment to roll back Moreno’s neoliberal policies. He promised to create decent employment opportunities and provide social security to low income and vulnerable populations. He stressed that he will continue to invest in public infrastructure projects such as the construction of bridges, roads, hospitals and schools. He also promised to guarantee free, quality and universal higher education.

Pérez says his plans are based on an economic model of sustainable development that protects the environment. He has promised to create a universal basic income, to sell “virtual water”. Like Arauz, Pérez has promised to ease Ecuadorians from indebtedness incurred during the pandemic and put a moratorium on repayment of loans.

Lasso has promised to create one million jobs and a universal health care system. He seeks to reactivate the country’s economy by investing 1 billion USD although it is unclear where this money will come from. He has proposed an international anti-corruption commission with oversight from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). However, analysts believe that Lasso will probably comply with the IMF’s economic policies, despite criticizing its proposed tax increases.

With inputs from Pilar Troya.