The Ecuadorian electoral landscape

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Dispersion, polarization or repolarization?

On February 07, Ecuador will elect the successor to Lenín Moreno, a government marked by incompetence and corruption. Polls show that three options can make it to the second round: coreism, represented by the young Andrés Arauz, who promises a future already lived in the past; businessman Guillermo Lasso, with a neoliberal discourse; and the indigenous leader Yaku Pérez, who is surprisingly third among the other two with an environmentalist discourse and ancestral references.

The March 2019 local elections in Ecuador broke a record in the number of candidates: the more than 80.000 candidates were almost triple those who contested the local elections five years earlier. The presidential elections scheduled for February 7, 2021 already have their own record: 16 candidacies, the highest number since the formation of the republic in 1830. Dispersion has been the dominant feature of the political system bequeathed by the implosion of the party Country Alliance, since the outstanding figure of Rafael Correa left the country and left behind a trail of accusations, trials and convictions for corruption.

The reason is easy to understand. The breakdown of the party that has dominated Ecuador's electoral landscape for a decade encourages the calculation that almost anyone can win elections in the midst of confusion. Between 2007 and 2017, the predominance of the party led with an iron fist by Correa put pressure on the unity of its opponents, since, in places where candidates multiplied, the dominant party could easily win with a simple majority. Even where coalitions were impossible, voters tended to line up broadly for or against the government. It was the familiar scenario of polarization: third options were marginalized, either by politicians or their supporters.

An example. The coalition of left-wing opponents of the Correa government, which presented two united candidacies in 2013 and 2017, is now dispersed in five different candidacies: Gustavo Larrea, for Democracy Yes; Paul Carrasco, by together we can; Xavier Hervas, for Democratic Left; Yaku Perez, at Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement; and César Montúfar, supported by Ecuadorian Socialist Party (PSE). The same scattering panorama can be seen among the still moving pieces of the ancient Country Alliance: at least four candidacies led or promoted by former correísmo employees.

In this framework of political dispersion, it is clear that there is a strong trend that bets on the recovery of the old polarization. Those who promote it are precisely those who benefited from it, presenting themselves as the “poles” of the dominant binary opposition. In other words, the two candidates leading the polls: former Minister Andrés Araúz, for Union for Hope, and banker Guillermo Lasso, for the party Creating Opportunities, in alliance with the Social Christian Party (PSC). The social force underlying this trend to revitalize the old polarization is a critical economic and social environment. The economic and fiscal crisis, adjustment and austerity policies, the economic and health collapse exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and deepened by the incompetence and corruption of Lenín Moreno's government are factors that arouse intense social indignation. The perfect storm in which radical discourses and hopes, or those that claim to be such, are most successfully used.

Lasso presents himself as the standard-bearer of an alternative business model to “correist statism”. Nothing new under the sun. Private initiative, tax cuts, foreign investments that will be abundantly implemented by trust in a serious government and a minimal State. Oil and mining are presented this time as the heart of the promised recovery, adorned with subsidized credits for small agricultural companies at 1% interest and a 30-year term. The announced result of such revenue is two million new jobs instead of the one million advertised in the last elections with the same measures.

Andrés Aráuz is a young second-ranking employee, with a technical profile, of Correismo, almost unknown until now. Precisely for these reasons it was chosen: it can present itself as “new” and “fresh”, while at the same time claiming, without mitigating circumstances or the shadow of self-criticism, the Citizens' Revolution. Aráuz's speech emphasizes that his promises are viable because they were already lived in the government of his mentor, who appears, from Brussels, as the omnipresent figure of his campaign material. “Recover the future”, the electoral slogan, represents his message well: a future already lived in the past. He has promised that, in the first week of his administration, he will deliver $2006 to one million families and repatriate the capital transferred abroad, while his electoral strategy presents him as an enemy of all parties, the press and bankers united against him. A clear repetition of the winning formula of 20. Everyone is attacked as accomplices of a ruthless and useless government, whose bankruptcy appears to be the best proof of the goodness of the past. Correísmo has an important floor of votes that oscillates between 30 and XNUMX% of the electorate. Enough to make it to the second round.

The novelty of the moment is that, for the first time since 2006, a third candidacy is disputing this polarized scenario. The candidacy of Yaku Pérez, for the Pachakutik, is a kind of “repolarization” alternative due to the economic, social and environmental agenda it promotes. Repolarization because it rearranges the polarities around another pole, the indigenous movement and its allies, instead of the two traditional poles, the Correist caudillismo and the entrepreneurial project. The basis of its economic agenda is based on the program elaborated in disorderly and crowded assemblies after the massive popular rebellion of October 2019, which proposes to increase direct taxes on large fortunes and economic groups. The indisputable role of Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) in that uprising, which Pérez led until March 2019, when he was elected governor of the province of Azuay, in the Andean south, is what explains this unprecedented opportunity for an indigenous candidate to win a national election. Pérez insisted on a campaign strategy based on an environmentalist discourse, with an emphasis on emotions, which insists on harmony and ancestral values. It is a new discourse, which in its forms eludes what we normally understand as “polarization”. However, his government program, if implemented, would reorganize the polarization, but not eliminate it.

Only these three candidates have a chance of winning. If any of the other 13 candidates won, it would be a monumental surprise. If Lasso wins, his economic program and utter lack of personal charisma make it unlikely that he will build a stable electoral hegemony for an extended period. It is more likely that the leadership of the opposition to his conservative agenda will be hotly contested between indigenous people and Correismo. If Aráuz wins, the old polarization could be revived, but his government will not have an organized social base, nor a scenario of economic bonanza that presided over its past successes, or any parliamentary majority. With all the parties and social movements against him, a political scenario of a new Constituent Assembly is likely, in an attempt to rebuild his electoral hegemony and some kind of agreement with the business sectors. A Yaku Pérez government is perhaps the most uncertain of the three. Its only initial source of power would be the powerful indigenous movement, the most organized social movement (strictly speaking, the only one) in the country. It is not enough, but it is a less malleable foundation than Correa's will and personal charisma, which is the main political asset that Andrés Aráuz's party has.

Without Pérez, Conaie would remain more or less what it has always been; if Correa disappeared tomorrow, his entire movement would be orphaned, without leadership and without a credible opportunity to reinvent itself. Dispersion, polarization, repolarization. A neoliberal agenda, a reissue of personalist caudillismo, an authentic, heterogeneous and vital social movement, urged to invent a difficult and uncertain political hegemony. In the February 2021 elections, the alternatives are authentic. And it's not two, but three.

*Pablo Ospina Peralta He is a professor at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar (Ecuador).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

Originally published in the magazine New Society.

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