Elections in Ecuador – achievements and declines

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By FRANCISCO HIDALGO FLOR*

There is a flow of political behavior that goes beyond institutionalized structures and drives processes of democratization of Ecuadorian economic and social relations

This article analyzes the results of the early presidential elections in Ecuador, held on August 20, in the context of the worsening social and political crisis in the country, expressed, among other aspects, in the increase in the security crisis and drug trafficking that has accelerated in the last year and resulted, during the electoral process, in the assassinations of the mayor of Manta, the fourth most populous city in the country, Agustín Intriago, in the last days of July, and of the presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, in early August. We also reflect on the results of popular consultations regarding oil exploration in the Amazonian region of Yasuní and the prohibition of increased mining in the Chocó Andino region.

The early elections of this month of August are a consequence of the application by President Guillermo Lasso, in May, of a constitutional remedy in the face of the situation of institutional crisis, called "cross death", contemplated in article 82 of the current Constitution, through which he ended the legislative work, but at the same time determined the shortening of the presidential term. A new president and a new parliament will be elected to complete the governing term until 2025.

The application of cross-death is a manifestation of the political crisis provoked by the confrontation between the progressive tendency that controlled the national parliament and the neoliberal tendency that controls the executive power, without mechanisms of agreement in the face of a President Lasso committed to the strict application of the neoliberal program of reduction of the state and the transnational extractive way of accumulation, and full of accusations of corruption in the management of the main public companies.

The novelty of the situation lies in the worsening of the social crisis, whose main signs are the lack of work and the increase in poverty conditions among the population, especially in rural and marginal urban areas, which found an escape route in the increase in financial circuits non-legal and in local drug trafficking gangs, now linked to transnational mafias.

The extent of social penetration by drug gangs has been evident in recent weeks in cities along the coast such as Guayaquil, Durán, Daule and Esmeraldas, as hundreds of young people on motorcycles took to the streets in slums to protest the prison repression.

 

Results of presidential and legislative elections

The results of the first round of the presidential elections, in which eight candidates and one female candidate competed, show a result in which the first place was obtained by the candidate of the Citizen Revolution party, Luisa Gonzales, with 33% of the votes; in second place was the candidate Daniel Noboa, with 23%; and, in third place, the murdered candidate Villavicencio, who was replaced by Christian Zurita, who obtained 16%[I].

The Citizen Revolution party, led by former President Rafael Correa, has long been the country's main political force, having won the first round of presidential elections for the past fifteen years. But in the 2021 elections, he lost in the second round, in the face of the consolidation of the right-wing candidate, at that time Guillermo Lasso, due to the rise of the ideological current of “anti-correism”, which managed to unite all the other forces. Its candidate Luisa Gonzales presented as her main electoral motto a positive past to which to return, with a strong state presence, expressed in the slogan: "Let's have a homeland again".

The presence of Daniel Noboa in the second round, with 23% of the votes, is a surprise. Basically, the political scenario of 2021 is repeated, when the rival who competed with the Citizen Revolution is a direct representative of the large private business sectors, at that time, it was the banker Guillermo Lasso, now it is the agro-exporter Noboa. This new Daniel Noboa presented himself as the candidate of the new generations and was so skilful that he supported Sim in the referendum on Yasuní.

Third place is occupied by the candidate and the movement led by the assassinated Fernando Villavicencio, with 16%. Undoubtedly, this event disturbed the country's political scenario and transferred a “vote of regret” to a political grouping with a considerable presence of ex-soldiers and police in its ranks; in fact, the first candidate for national deputy, Patricio Carrillo, was minister of the interior and commanded the military and police in the indigenous revolts of 2019 and 2022.

The candidate of the historical movements of the left and who was leader of the indigenous movement, Yaku Pérez, now obtained a reduced vote of 4% of the electorate. In contrast to its participation in 2021, when it obtained 19% and was very close to going to the second round; the weight of the internal division of the indigenous movement between Conaie and Pachakutik was evident.

In the election of members of the National Assembly, the Citizen Revolution obtained 39% of the votes, 6 points more than the presidential candidate; the second political force was the Constrói party, of the assassinated Fernando Villavicencio, with 20%, 4 points more than in the presidential race; the third force was the ADN party, with 14% of the electorate, 9 points less than its presidential candidate; as for parliament, those who supported Yaku got 3%.[ii]

 

Evolution of the political-ideological dispute

The results of the early elections of August 2023 show variable names and relevant acronyms, but in essence they are very similar to the 2021 scenario; the variations to be highlighted are the ideological evolutions incapable of facing the structural causes of an economic and social crisis that worsens and can lead to a national collapse. The important hope that remains is the results of popular consultations on environmental issues of resistance to extractivism.

The scenario of political forces in 2021 maintained this order, according to the votes of the parties in the national parliament: Citizen Revolution (32%), Pachakutik (17%), Democratic Left (12%), Social-Christianity (9,7% ) and the Believe movement (9%). In 2023, the order is: Citizen Revolution (39%), Build (20%), DNA Movement (14%), Social-Christianity (12%), Atuemos Movement (4%).

In 2021, in an ideological fringe of center-left and left, in which we place progressivism, the indigenous movement and traditional social democracy represented 61% of the electoral flow; while the center-right and right fringe represented 20% of that flow. In 2023, the center left and left fringe make up 45%, while the center right and right fringe make up 62%.

Among the five main political forces of the two political moments, only two names are repeated: Citizen Revolution and Social-Christianity, representing progressivism and the traditional right. The Pachakutik, Esquerda Democrática and the Credo movement parties (the latter led by President Lasso) entered into crisis.

Now it should be noted that in this political period 2021 - 2023, progressivism has evolved towards centrist positions, it continues to postulate a path for the development of capitalism under state control, but in these elections it has refrained from speaking openly in favor of the consultation on Yasuní, and its Candidate Luisa Gonzales displays loyalty to leader Rafael Correa as her main attribute.

The right has changed names and faces, leaving behind any type of party structure and modulating its discourse on issues such as the environment. The best example is candidate Daniel Noboa, his movement is called ADN, which may stand for “Ação Democrática Nacional”, but also for Álvaro Daniel Noboa, his candidate (by the way, the acronym RC may stand for Citizen Revolution, but also Rafael Correa). Let's say it had the advantage of a short electoral campaign, in which it could avoid taking positions on neoliberal measures. In this respect, he differs from Lasso, who clearly displayed neoliberal proposals.

But the more conservative right is migrating to the so-called “Constrói movement”, which nominated the assassinated Fernando Villavicencio, in which police and military circles have a strong influence. 

President Lasso's Credo movement decided not to participate in these early elections.

From a left perspective, what happened to the division between Conaie and Pachakutik, which reached its highest point in 2021, with the second parliamentary bloc, is regrettable, but which precisely exacerbated struggles and limitations to face political action in these scenarios. The penetration and fragmentation pressures of the indigenous movement were notable, driven by the right with President Lasso and by progressivism with the penetration of correísmo at the movement's leadership levels.

In these political and ideological scenarios, the social and political positions capable of raising proposals and demands for structural changes in relation to the causes of the deep crisis that Ecuador is going through are weakened, that is, the persistence and expansion of a pattern of primary-export accumulation which bets on extractive routes and global trade agreements, which end up destroying what little there is of the national productive apparatus.

 

Positive lessons from popular consultations on the environment

This August, in addition to voting for president and parliamentarians, voters had to give their opinion in two consultations on environmental issues of an anti-extractivist nature: on the one hand, at the national level, there was a consultation on whether or not to agree with the prohibition oil exploration in the Amazonian area of ​​Yasuní, in which 59% of the national vote was in favor of Yes; on the other hand, with regard to the metropolitan district of Quito, there was a consultation on the prohibition of mining in the Chocó Andino region, in which 68% of the votes in that canton were in favor of Yes.[iii] In this way, the environmentalist thesis of stopping the expansion of oil exploration and mining in these two natural reserve areas was widely supported.

The positive results of popular consultations on the environment must be read in a medium and long-term perspective; a short-term view is of little use.

Assuming this long-term vision, we must mention three factors: (i) the evolution of the environmentalist movement in Ecuador; (ii) the constitutional and institutional basis achieved; (iii) the social and political battles fought and how these three converge in the debate around Yasuní.

The environmentalist movement emerged in Ecuador in the late 1980s and early 1990s from two sources: on the one hand, non-governmental organizations and, on the other hand, linked to the indigenous movement, especially the movement in the Amazon. Then it reached a greater dimension with the deepening of the work and proposals around the Amazon and the denunciation of the negative consequences of oil exploration. Here there is a meeting between the impact of the environmentalist movement and the performance of social anthropology in relation to uncontacted peoples,[iv] precisely one of these scenarios is Yasuní.

It is here that the environmentalist movement meets the debates on post-developmental currents, and from there, in the early 2000s, the key proposal on Yasuní was born,[v] whose thesis was to promote a global fund to support Ecuador to leave the oil reserves of this important natural reserve region underground. The proposal advanced during the first phase of Rafael Correa's developmental government, between 2007 and 2013, but that year the president gave up promoting this proposal and, instead, authorized the start of oil exploration.[vi]

At that moment, ten years ago, several efforts by social movements were born with the thesis that Ecuadorian citizens should decide whether or not to authorize the economic exploitation of Yasuní through a popular consultation. The group that emerged there is known as “Yasunidos”,[vii] who persisted in his work all this time.

This confluence of forces – environmental movement, indigenous movement, debates critical of developmentalism – will positively influence the 2008 Constituent Assembly, managing, during the period presided over by Alberto Acosta, that the text of the Constitution recognizes the rights of nature and the regulations for the protection of nature reserves.

The Constitutional Court played a key role in the evolution of regulations during the following decade (2013 – 2023), producing a series of decisions that consolidated legislation and jurisprudence on the subject, including the resolution that allowed the referendum to be held in August 2023 .[viii]

Over this course of at least a decade, the thesis of protecting Yasuní and awareness of the blockades by different governments, both Correa in 2013 and Lasso in 2022, to try to prevent this consultation from taking place, as well as the campaign orchestrated by the large oil and mining companies, were gaining strength and reason at the national level, reaching broad sectors of the population.

Regarding the social and political behavior at the polls in August 2023, in light of the proposed consultations, the collectives and networks that promoted the Yes were strengthened, and the debate focused on the magnitude of the economic impacts of the ban on exploration and dismantling of existing infrastructure.[ix]

It was important to incorporate the consultation on the conservation of the Chocó Andino, which is a more recent discussion, and which helped to bring in new sectors, as well as to mobilize the debate in the center of political power, since it was a question posed to the voters of the canton of Quito.

 

By way of conclusion

In the August 2023 elections, social and political definitions were expressed on two levels: on the one hand, the representation of political power, presidency and parliamentarians; on the other, the extended understanding of the population about nature and development. At one level, protagonism corresponds to political-electoral structures and candidates; in another, it corresponds to social movements and the diversity of civil society, from business associations to non-governmental organizations.

In relation to the representations of power and political-electoral forces, although the progressive current has obtained the first place, there is a reduction in the center-left and left-wing tendencies. With a second round in 2023 that resembles the second round of 2021, a definition between the new representatives of progressivism, Luisa Gonzales, and the business sectors, Daniel Noboa.

As for the social understandings of nature and development, there is majority support for the thesis of environmental preservation to the detriment of extractive theses, in which social movements stand out.

There is a flow of political behavior that goes beyond institutionalized structures and drives processes of democratization of economic and social relations.

All this within the framework of an electoral process that was the most violent since the return of the Constitution, apparently as one of the consequences of the confrontation between drug trafficking gangs committed to expanding not only market circuits, but also influence at levels of political power.

*Francisco Hidalgo Flor, sociologist, is a professor at the Central University of Ecuador.

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

References


National Electoral Council of Ecuador: August 2023 electoral results.

Alberto Acosta (2023). “These are the ethical reasons for leaving Yasuní's raw material – ITT in the subsoil”. Portal Plan V.

Acosta, Gudynas, Martinez (2009). “Elements for a political-ecological proposal to stop oil exploration in the Amazon of Ecuador”. Portal ircamericas.

Francisco Hidalgo Flor (2021). “Electoral process 2021: options in motion”. In: magazine Sociology and Politics TodayNumber 5.

Sara Latorre (2010). “Popular ecologism in Ecuador: past and present”. Institute of Ecuadorian Studies – IEE.

Unda, M. and Hidrovo, M. (2023). “Ecuador at its political crossroads: electoral remezón del 2023”. En: Sociología y Política Hoy magazine, number 8.

Notes


[I] On the results of the presidential elections, consult the official website of the National Electoral Council: https://elecciones2023.cne.gob.ec/#

[ii] On the results of the elections for the National Assembly, consult the official website of the National Electoral Council: https://elecciones2023.cne.gob.ec/Asambleistas/nacionales#

[iii] On the results of popular consultations regarding Yasuní and Chocó Andino, consult the official website of the National Electoral Council: https://elecciones2023.cne.gob.ec/Consultas/yasuni

[iv] On the environmental movement in Ecuador, see: “El ecologismo popular en el Ecuador” by author Sara Latorre. Available in: https://www.iee.org.ec/ejes/sociedad-alternativa-2/el-ecologismo-popular-en-el-ecuador-pasado-y-presente.html )

[v] For the exhibition on the Yasuní initiative see: https://albertoacosta.ec/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/explotaci%C3%B3nAmazonia-09.pdf

[vi] For a summary of the Yasuní initiative, see the Wikipedia encyclopedia: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iniciativa_Yasun%C3%AD-ITT

[vii] About the Yasunidos movement, see its website: https://www.yasunidos.org/

[viii] Decision of the Constitutional Court that allowed the holding of the popular consultation on Yasuní, available at: https://www.corteconstitucional.gob.ec/dictamen-nro-6-22-cp-23/

[ix] Among the arguments in favor of preserving Yasuní, see the article by Acosta “Ethical reasons for leaving Yasuní's raw material – ITT en el subsuelo”. Available in: https://www.planv.com.ec/historias/plan-verde/estas-son-razones-eticas-dejar-el-crudo-del-yasuni-itt-el-subsuelo


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