Guillermo Lasso | A victor of circumstances

The centre-right candidate’s win curtails the pink tide in Ecuador further

Updated - April 18, 2021 11:31 am IST

Published - April 17, 2021 10:18 pm IST

In a turnaround of sorts, Guillermo Lasso became the President-elect of Ecuador following a run-off second round vote in presidential elections in the Latin American country. Mr. Lasso, a former banker who belongs to the centre-right Creating Opportunities (CREO) party, won 52.4% of the vote in the run-offs, defeating his opponent Andrez Arauz of the leftist Union of Hope coalition, who secured 47.7% despite leading in the first round with 32.7% over Mr. Lasso’s 19.7%.

This was Mr. Lasso’ first presidential victory in three campaigns since 2013 but it did not come easily. In the first round, not only was his vote share some distance behind Mr. Arauz’s, but it was also barely more than that of third place candidate Yaku Perez of the indigenous coalition Pachakutik. Mr. Perez won 19.4% and fell short of second place by just 32,115 votes and went on to challenge the results. Both Mr. Aruaz and Mr. Perez’s coalitions belong to the left side of the political spectrum as opposed to Mr. Lasso’s centre-right and traditionalist platform, but there has been no love lost between the platforms that the former two politicians represent.

Mr. Aruaz was the hand-picked nominee of popular ex-President Rafael Correa, who continues to exert a significant influence in Ecuador despite being out of power since 2017, living in Belgium. Mr. Correa’s coming to power in 2007 heralded the Ecuadorean version of the Latin American pink tide, a current that led to several left-wing parties winning power across the continent. Mr. Correa, a U.S. educated economist, reoriented government policy in Ecuador to effect redistribution and welfare, spending programmes that resulted in significant drops in poverty in the country.

Radical trident

He also formed a radical trident of sorts in alliance with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales by forming regional coalitions. Initially, Mr. Correa promised the recognition of rights and interests of the indigenous people, but they fell out with the government over issues such as the policies of mineral extraction from protected areas. With Mr. Correa using strong-arm measures to quell protests by indigenous groups during his tenure, a clear contradiction emerged between what some scholars call the politics of “left in power” defined by “Correismo” and “left in resistance” represented by Mr. Perez and other indigenous organisations.

Mr. Perez called on his supporters to return invalid ballots instead of voting for either Mr. Arauz or Mr. Lasso and in the second round, nearly 18% of the ballots were indeed rendered invalid. This reduced the threshold for Mr. Lasso to win a majority of the remaining votes.

Besides, the fourth-placed candidate, Mr. Xavier Hervas of the “Democratic Left” party, a social democratic outfit that thrived in the old polity before Mr. Correa’s coming to power, also endorsed Mr. Lasso. In doing so, Mr. Hervas was privileging his opposition against Correismo — which liberals in Ecuador have identified as a “semi-authoritarian” tendency due to Mr. Correa’s run-ins with the judiciary and the media. But these steps by the other contenders do not suffice in explaining Mr. Lasso’s victory.

Ecuador has been ravaged by COVID-19 with the GDP shrinking by 7.8%. As many as three Health Ministers resigned recently, for being unable to implement a proper vaccine distribution system to stem the effects of the pandemic. More than 17,500 deaths have been registered for a high 5% case fatality rate (among the highest in Latin America). The outgoing President Lenin Moreno was also a handpicked choice of Mr. Correa, but who disavowed his own policy platform after coming to power and undertook severe austerity measures that led to denunciation by Mr. Correa and protests across the country. While Mr. Arauz could manage to delineate a clear difference with Mr. Moreno and promised a revert to the redistributive policies of Mr. Correa, the mixed legacy of Correismo and the new contradictions within the Ecuadorean Left allowed Mr. Lasso to come up trumps.

Mr. Lasso will, however, have a tougher time in the presidency as the CREO only has 12 seats in the 137-member National Assembly with the Union for Hope and Pachakutik controlling 76 seats together. But for now, his win will curtail the pink tide in Ecuador even further.

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