Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Who Will Ecuador Choose as its Next President?

Photo of the Carondelet Palace. Ecuadoreans go to the polls Aug. 20 for snap presidential and legislative elections. The country’s presidential palace, the Carondelet Palace, is pictured. // File Photo: Taty2007 via Creative Commons.

Ecuadoreans will head to the polls Aug. 20 in a snap election to choose their next president. Of the candidates registered, only three are polling at or above 10 percent, according to a July poll from Comunicaliza: Luisa González, a fiscal leftist and social conservative who enjoyed a long career in the public sector during the presidency of Rafael Correa; Yaku Pérez, an environmental activist whose green agenda could attract younger generations; and Otto Sonnenholzner, a former vice president who is running as a centrist option. Considering the highly polarized state of Ecuadorean society, what will the next leader have to do to bring unity to the country? How likely is the country to join the region’s turn to the left, and will the future president remain a close ally of U.S. President Joe Biden, as was the current president, Guillermo Lasso? What are possible security concerns around the election?

Will Freeman, fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations: “According to a nationally representative July poll by CEDATOS, a majority of Ecuadoreans don’t recognize the names of the presidential candidates on the ballot. Sixty percent are currently undecided on how they will vote. So there is still plenty of time for the race to change at the last minute, as was the case in Guatemala’s recent first-round vote and in Peru’s 2021 election. That said, I anticipate Luisa González will maintain the lead, given that Correísmo’s base is the largest and most disciplined. The runoff, however, will likely be more of an uphill battle for González and Correísmo. A sector of Ecaudorean society remains staunchly anti-Correísta, even after the shortcomings of the Moreno and Lasso governments. Pérez, Sonnenholzner and others are competing for these voters’ support, but once the smoke clears, I expect anti-Correísta voters will begin to unify behind any one of these candidates. There’s no guarantee Ecuador will join the region’s shift to the left, although it’s a possibility. The big challenge for the next president, whoever he or she is, will be bringing Congress and other state institutions together to tackle rising criminal violence. ‘Mano dura’ theatrics won’t cut it. What Ecuador needs is an intelligence-based approach, sustained over multiple governments, that dismantles criminal structures and reverses their capture of officials within the security forces, police, judiciary and ports. That unity has eluded Presidents Moreno and Lasso and could continue to remain elusive if Correísmo versus anti-Correísmo becomes the dominant theme of the next government.”

Marc Becker, professor of Latin American history at Truman State University: “Once again, it appears that the presidential race centers on second place to see who will face off against front runner González in the second round. González is both the strongest but also one of the least known candidates, and much of her support is because of Correa’s backing. As she becomes better known, her support could either rise or decline, but it appears unlikely that she will win outright on Aug. 20. Even with concerns about rising crime rates and security under Lasso’s conservative administration, right-wing candidates such as Jan Topić who have been cast as the ‘Ecuadorean Bukele’ have not gained traction. A more likely scenario is that social movements that have long been at odds with Correa will once again be the deal breaker in the race. Pérez, who has broken with Pachakutik, is polling significantly behind what he did in the last election. This would seem to indicate that it was not just the attractiveness of his environmental agenda but also the institutional support of a political movement that provided him with a strong showing. A question is what will those allied around Leonidas Iza, the leader of Indigenous movement CONAIE, do: both in this first round as well as in a potential second round. Historically and even in the last presidential election, conservatives with their unpopular agenda can never win on the strength of their own program, but only when the liberal/left is divided and that might very well happen again.” 

Diego Andrés Almeida, managing partner at Almeida Guzmán Asociados: “Although it is important for candidates to communicate their platforms and intentions, this election will most likely be decided not on the merits of a candidate, but rather in opposition to the acts and mistakes of the previous government. Candidates must nonetheless tackle the issues of security, drug trafficking and public spending to incentivize the economy. In the last year, Ecuador has seen more murders and kidnappings than in any other period in the previous decade. The political pendulum seems to be moving at a fast pace. The midterm elections showed that candidates from the left secured large support and acquired power throughout the country. Due to security issues and uprisings from Indigenous groups, it is evident that voters are not leaning toward electing someone from the right. It is important to note that neither Yaku Pérez nor Otto Sonnenholzner represent the conservative side of the political spectrum. Sonnenholzner seems to be closest to U.S. interests. And Pérez is unpredictable, but his stance will most likely be favorable to the United States, except when it comes to mining and oil exploitation. González is certainly the candidate with the least sympathy toward the United States. Security concerns for the election include cyber-attacks directed to the electoral system, as well as physical attacks against candidates, such as the murder of the mayor of Manta on July 23.” 

Hernán Reyes Aguinaga, professor of communications at Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Ecuador: “The upcoming presidential and legislative elections in Ecuador do not leave a large margin of hope. Several factors have a lot influence over the possibility that the rotation of state could bring positive changes: the waves of violence that the population has withstood during the last two and a half years, including more than a dozen prison riots with barbaric massacres that have left more than 500 people dead. They have shown that the drug cartels, not the state, are in control of those facilities and other territory. President Guillermo Lasso has been unable to address not only this crisis, but he has also been unable to get country out of the economic stagnation that has affected many people and has provoked migration. Citizens lack trust in the political class. Also, political organizations are weak, and civil society is fragmented, polarized and frightened. In these difficult circumstances, one of these eight candidates must be conscious of the gravity of the devastation in our country, especially considering that they represent all sides of the political spectrum: the traditional right or those in disguise; the outsider candidates who are supported by parties who have no direction and the centrist environmentalists and progressives. Even if they win, they will not have the opportunity, in about a year and a half, to make practically a single change. Ecuador, which wanders without direction and in a tailspin with the current government, projects itself as hopeless onto whomever will comes to substitute the current situation.” 

Gabriel Santelices Fierro, legal director at Dentons Paz Horowitz: “The upcoming presidential election is again characterized by the large number of registered candidates (especially from center-right and right-wing parties), which causes an exaggerated division of the vote among them. It is for this reason that candidate Luisa González of Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana, the greatest beneficiary of the large number of registered candidates, leads the polls despite having just 26.8 percent of voters’ support. The next president must bring a solution for the high crime rates caused by organized crime. This issue is a major concern for all of Ecuadorean society, despite the enormous division among voters. Currently, with two of the first three presidential candidates (González and Yaku Pérez) being leftists, it is highly probable that Ecuador will join the regional trend in South America. In this scenario, the Ecuadorean government’s relationship with the United States will probably deteriorate, as occurred during the government of Rafael Correa. There are concerns regarding the security of citizens and authorities during political campaigns and elections. In addition, the electoral institutions (CNE and TCE) are exposed in case the election results do not favor the interests of criminal organizations, such as the recent assassination of the mayor of the city of Manta, Agustín Intriago.” 

Alberto Acosta, editor of Weekly Analysis in Guayaquil: “In the upcoming election, it is likely that Ecuador will take a turn toward the left. Among the top three candidates with the highest voter support, all of them advocate for increased state intervention, albeit with different nuances. Luisa González, the leading candidate of the Correismo movement, embodies a populist social democratic vision. Her proposal focuses on strengthening the state and expanding its role in all spheres of society. Limiting economic freedom is seen as legitimate in pursuit of greater equality. Also from a social democratic perspective, Otto Sonnenholzner proposes to reclaim the state’s role and ‘implement a public social policy that strengthens the presence of the state at the national level and guarantees social services, aiming to build a less inequitable society.’ Yaku Pérez seeks to position himself as a ‘third way’ candidate with his Indigenous communitarianism. His vision places the state (always under strong community controls) at the center as an instrument to create equity, redistribution and economic reorganization. Regarding their relationship with the private sector, González and Pérez take an interventionist position. They believe in social engineering in line with state guidelines. At the productive level, they seek a return to central planning through industrial policies and import substitution. Foreign trade is acceptable only if the state manages it. Both hold a hostile position toward certain productive sectors, particularly banking and large corporations. However, Sonnenholzner does not believe in state dirigisme; he aims to promote private activity through incentives and actively open markets. González and Pérez will likely maintain some distance from the sphere of influence of the United States and probably seek closer ties with China and other countries with whom they share greater ideological affinity. With Sonnenholzner, the most centrist of the three, the relationship with the United States would be closer. If the United States accepts it, a trade agreement could be reached, in addition to deepening cooperation in various areas, including security.” 


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