After leading a decade of social progress, Ecuador's left comes first in elections

Lenin Moreno greets supporters.

Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on February 22 that the presidential race will head to a second round after left-wing candidate Lenin Moreno came first in the February 19 election, but fell agonisingly short of the 40% needed to win a first-round victory.

Moreno, from the ruling Alianza Pais (AP) of outgoing President Rafael Correa, won 39.35% of the vote. He beat right-wing Guillermo Lasso of the opposition CREO party by more than 10 percentage points, with the ex-banker winning 28.12%.

At the same time, ongoing support for the Correa-led Citizen’s Revolution that has halved poverty over the past decade thanks to a big rise in social spending, was shown by the National Assembly election results. AP and allied groups retained an absolute majority, winning 79 of the 137 seats.

The left also won a national referendum on whether public officials can keep money in offshore tax-havens — a key plank of Correa’s international campaign against tax avoidance. With 94% of the vote counted, the “Yes” campaign had received 54.97% against 45.03% for the “No” side.

In response to the outcome, Moreno, a disability rights activist, said: “This is a long-term fight. We will win this battle. I will [win the second round] with the same love and dedication, listening to people. We will continue our mission throughout Ecuador.”

A danger for Moreno is that supporters of opposition candidates now out of the race will back Lasso in the second round. Cynthia Viteri, candidate for the right-wing Social Christian party that won 16.30% of the vote, has said she will back Lasso. Paco Moncayo of the Democratic Left, who won 6.72%, said he will not back either candidate.

The right-wing opposition has made unsubstantiated accusations of fraud. Lasso’s vice presidential running mate Andres Paez was present at the protests in front of the CNE headquarters in Quito that turned violent and forced the offices to be evacuated. A video of the protest captured a Lasso supporter calling for Quito to be set on fire. AP offices also received two bomb threats in the days after the elections.

Despite the allegations, more than 200 international observers have declared that the national elections were conducted with transparency and no major problems.

The future of Ecuador's Citizens’ Revolution — a 10-year-old mass movement begun when Correa was first elected president that has radically transformed the country — will now be decided when the second round is held on April 2.

For the past 10 years, Correa’s social and economic policies have lifted 1.5 million people out of poverty, tripled government tax revenue, expanded universal health care and education, and made advances in controlling unemployment.

Moreno has promised to renew a program of university grants as part of his commitment to provide high-quality education for all, including creating a free college admission exam prep program.

He has pledged to create a system of loans for small business start-ups, and open 350 technical training institutions in the agricultural sector. He vowed to continue Ecuador’s sustainable development initiatives — which the Overseas Development Institute says have led to the “world's most inclusive economic growth”.

Lasso’s plans, on the other hand, involve cutting taxes on the rich, downsizing government institutions, privatising school systems, and allowing increased foreign investment.

Ecuador’s elections came after a period in which right-wing forces have made significant gains in several South American nations.  A right-wing government was elected in Argentina in 2015, the right brought down the government in Brazil through an institutional coup last year, and in Venezuela, National Assembly elections were won by the right-wing opposition to the Bolivarian revolution initiated by late socialist president Hugo Chavez.

Political analyst Sandino Asturias told TeleSUR: “Even though there were slander campaigns and attacks on Alianza Pais, tons of voters came out in support of Lenin and the progressive leftist project he represents.

“They showed that Ecuadoreans don’t want to go back to privatisation and neoliberalism. They want to move forward with the movement that Correa created and that Lenin is now leading.”

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]