In an interview with CGTN America, Michael Shifter discussed the recent elections in Ecuador and Peru. In the former, Guillermo Lasso won the race despite lagging behind Andrés Arauz in the polls, and in Peru, Pedro Castillo unexpectedly won the first round of voting, with Keiko Fujimori coming in second. The runoff between Castillo and Fujimori will take place on June 6.
COMMENTS FROM MICHAEL SHIFTER:
Question (Q): Tell us about Guillermo Lasso, the Ecuadoran president-elect.
Answer (A): [Guillermo Lasso] is extremely conservative. Economically, he believes very passionately in the market, and he believes in democracy. He grew up in Guayaquil, on the coast, and came out of poverty to join the Bank of Guayaquil, becoming extremely successful and demonstrating very impressive mobility. In the last decade or so, he has turned to politics. Lasso has been an ardent critic of Rafael Correa, who governed the country for 10 years. Though he has a very different ideological position, he is also a pragmatist, and now he will have a very tough job on his hands. I think he overcame the deficit [in the polls] because Rafael Correa is unpopular in Ecuador, and Andrés Arauz, the candidate leading the polls, was inextricably tied to Correa. Lasso took advantage of that, but he also ran a good campaign, reaching out to millennials and other sectors who didn’t know much about him. They found him appealing and so he got some of their votes, but the outcome was certainly a surprise to most analysts.
Q: Talk about the makeup of the Ecuadoran economy and the key issues and industries that matter to Ecuadorans.
A: Ecuador is a main oil producer and an OPEC member. Roughly 40 percent of its national income comes from oil, but it also has other sectors, such as agriculture, that are import sources of its economy. That said, oil is extremely important, and the country is in dire straits economically. It declined by almost eight percent in 2020, and this year it is projected to grow by a little above three percent. It has an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund for some six billion dollars that was negotiated under the previous government of Lenín Moreno, and it is in debt to China as well. These are huge challenges, and the pandemic has exacerbated everything. Lasso will have to overcome the divisions that were exposed during the campaign and try to bring the country together to confront these very profound problems.
Q: Tell us more about Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, the frontrunners after the first round of voting in the Peruvian presidential election.
A: Pedro Castillo only started to emerge in the past couple of weeks. He was not a serious contender until recently, and a few months ago he did not even appear in the polls. Peru is a country full of surprises. We saw that most dramatically in 1990, when Alberto Fujimori became president. It is a country where people are desperate, and there is enormous uncertainty. The pandemic has been devastating for Peruvians, and there is tremendous anger toward the traditional political class. Castillo took advantage of that situation. He is a teacher, a union leader, and someone of the left. He believes in the state’s role in the economy and rejects the current constitution of 1993. He also had a folkloric appeal, wearing a hat and riding a horse, and that touched a lot of Peruvians. So, he was the winner [in the first round of voting]. It looks like Keiko Fujimori will be his opponent in the second round. She is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is now serving prison time for human-rights and corruption charges. She could not be more ideologically different from Castillo. She believes in a market economy and in the current constitution, which came into effect under her father. They are polar opposites. It looks like she will hold on, and the second round should be very interesting and highly uncertain. My own sense is that either of the two contenders could pull off a victory in June.