Ecuador will return to the polls on April 2 after a first round presidential vote failed to deliver a decisive victory for Lenin Moreno, the candidate seeking to continue outgoing President Rafael Correa’s pro-poor “Citizens’ Revolution”.
Moreno now faces the challenge of ensuring Ecuador does not join the list of countries in the region where the left has recently lost at the ballot box.
Despite defeating his nearest rival by more than 1 million votes, Moreno fell just short of obtaining the 40% required for outright victory in the first round on February 19, winning 39.36%.
Moreno ran as the candidate for PAIS Alliance, a party set up by Correa to help him first win the presidency in 2006. As a radical economist and outsider candidate, Correa rode to power on the back of what he dubbed a Citizens’ Revolution against the political elites.
The origins of this political process lie in the predominantly indigenous-led popular revolts that rocked Ecuador from the early ’90s and overthrew several presidents during the next decade and a half.
Correa’s election was a big blow to the country’s corrupt political class. It led to Ecuador joining the then-growing ranks of left and progressive governments in the region. As president, Correa promoted anti-imperialist unity and regional integration.
He also implemented some key demands of the social movements, including expelling a US military base, defaulting on the country’s illegitimate foreign debt and facilitating a process to democratically draft a new constitution that reflects the progressive aspirations of the majority.
Policies directed at wealth redistribution, particularly in the oil sector, along with a doubling in government social spending, helped spur an unprecedented cut in the poverty rate (which fell by 38%) and extreme poverty (down 47%) during Correa’s 10 years in office.
Correa remains popular, but he declined to stand in these elections so as to pave the way for a leadership transition. He campaigned heavily for Moreno, a wheelchair-bound disability rights activist and his vice-presidential running mate in 2006 and 2009.
Correa’s backing, however, was not enough to get Moreno over the line. Moreno will now face-off against the millionaire banker and right-wing CREO party candidate, Guillermo Lasso, who won 28.09% of the vote.
In the ’90s, Lasso was appointed governor of Guayas by then neoliberal president Jamil Mahuad and briefly served in his cabinet before Mahuad was thrown out by a popular uprising.
Lasso has already signalled his intention to implement a range of anti-poor austerity measures and reverse key social gains achieved by Correa’s government.
Unsurprisingly, the entire right-wing opposition has swung behind Lasso in the hope of dealing the Citizen’s Revolution a critical blow.
The right was divided in the first round: while one section backed Lasso, another supported Social Christian Party candidate Cynthia Viteri (who won 16.32% of the vote). However, this division had more to do with the regional nature of each candidate’s support base than any major political differences. All this will be put aside in an effort to block Moreno’s victory.
It is also likely that several of the other five presidential candidates will support Lasso. However, the support of one candidate in particular — Paco Moncayo — and his backers could be critical to the final outcome.
Moncayo, a former military general from the centre-left Democratic Left (ID) party, won 6.71% of the vote standing for the National Accord for Change (ANC), an alliance which also includes anti-Correa left parties (the indigenous party Pachakutik and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador, among others).
While ID said it will not support either candidate and leave it up to voters to decide, Moncayo said on March 7 he will be voting for Lasso in the second round as the “only way to get rid of Correa”.
Pachakutik’s Political Council adopted a similar position on March 2, saying it opposed “more of the same” and therefore would not support Moreno in the second round, although differences exist over whether to openly call for a vote for Lasso or not.
A similar stance has also been adopted by leaders of some of Ecuador’s indigenous organisations and trade union confederations.
The national indigenous confederation, CONAIE, continues to debate its formal position at the grassroots level, but a February 23 statement issued after a national leadership meeting seemed to indicate that support for Moreno has been ruled out.
The statement echoed the sentiments expressed the day before by Carlos Perez Guartambel, president of CONAIE’s largest affiliate, Ecuarunari, who said "A banker is preferable to a dictatorship”.
This position has also been backed up in statements by CONAIE leader Jorge Herrera who, while stopping short of declaring support for Lasso, indicated that CONAIE would neither support a vote for Moreno nor a blank or null vote.
The presidents of two national trade union confederations (Ceols and FUT) told a press conference on March 8 that they too would not support a vote for Moreno or a blank or null vote, as both would “benefit the government of Rafael Correa”.
These positions are a further reflection of the shift that has occurred among some social movements from critical support for Correa to open confrontation. In the process, the door has seemingly been left open to tacit alliances with the right.
It is the result of years of bitter conflict between the government and certain social movement leaders over key issues, such as control over natural resources, indigenous autonomy and respect towards the elected leaders of indigenous and social movements.
There is no doubt the government has been at fault in many cases, particularly in its hostility towards leaders of the indigenous movement. This was a factor in the rise in support for right-wing candidates in some indigenous communities, particularly in the Amazon region.
It is also equally the case that many of these leaders have progressively lost the support of their own base due to their confrontational approach towards a government that many see as being on their side. This division is evidenced by the strong support Moreno has received from local and regional indigenous groups and trade unions. More than 1200 such organisations have already declared their support for Moreno.
In what is likely to be a close and tense second round — in which, if the race is tight, the opposition will cry fraud, regardless of any proof as they did after the first round — it may still be the case that a section of the left helps pave the way for the return of its old enemies to power, while further tilting the balance of forces in the region to the right.