Progressive forces swept Ecuador’s local elections on February 5, winning more than half of the country’s districts. Voters also rejected a constitutional referendum proposed by the right-wing Guillermo Lasso government.
Former President Rafael Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution (RC) party — which grew out of the movement to transform Ecuador during the 2000s — won in nine of the country’s 23 districts, including the largest two cities Quito and Guayaquil. The leftist victory in Guayaquil is significant, given that the ultra-conservative right-wing Social Christian Party has held power for the past 30 years.
These elections occurred in the context of rising discontent with the Lasso government. Lasso — a rich banker who narrowly won the presidency in the 2021 general elections — has continued the neoliberal policies of his predecessor Lenín Moreno, resulting in rising living costs and inflation.
As a result, Lasso’s administration has faced plummeting approval and widespread opposition.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) — Ecuador’s biggest Indigenous rights organisation — led massive demonstrations against the Lasso government last June, demanding measures to address the cost-of-living crisis, increased funding to health and education sectors, a ban on mining and oil exploitation in Indigenous territories and respect for the collective rights of Indigenous people.
Pachakutik — the electoral arm of the CONAIE — won 6 districts, including 20 mayors and 115 councillors. Although initially the CONAIE did not participate in electoral politics, in 1995 it formed Pachakutik with an alliance of other organisations as a viable alternative to the traditional political parties and to advance the interests of a wide range of Indigenous groups.
Kenneth Mijeski and Scott Beck, writing about Pachakutik’s creation in the Latin Americanist, said that the goal of the political project “is not simply to win elections but to achieve a thoroughgoing democratic transformation of Ecuadorian political and civil society”.
Analysts believe Pachakutik’s success in the elections was due to grassroots campaigning and the leading role CONAIE played in the uprisings last year. Pachakutik has been a rising electoral force in the past few years — a testament to the CONAIE’s capacity to mobilise grassroots support. Pachakutik won 27 seats at the 2021 general elections, becoming the second-biggest party in the country’s National Assembly.
Adriana Noboa, writing in Primicias, said: “Although Correismo declares itself as the winner of these local elections, in the streets it has only been a secondary actor in search of prominence, when the CONAIE has opposed the government.”
This is a reference to the CONAIE’s role in opposing the government in the streets, as opposed to RC’s focus on contesting the government through a purely electoralist approach.
Anthropologist Fernando García, interviewed in Primicias, highlighted the CONAIE’s two-pronged approach: “The Indigenous movement uses two strategies: one legal, electoral, of participation and the other of mobilisation.”
“The struggle in the streets was endorsed at the ballot box,” CONAIE president Leonidas Iza said.
The elections occurred in the context of violence against leftist groups and leaders. Julio César Farachio, mayoral candidate for the Popular Unity Movement — the electoral arm of Ecuador’s Communist party — was shot and killed on January 21 while hosting an electoral rally. RC mayoral candidate Omar Menéndez was also shot dead on February 4, just hours before polling booths opened.
As part of the local elections, Ecuadorians also voted to accept or reject eight questions in a referendum put forward by the Lasso government to modify the constitution. The referendum — widely seen as a barometer of support for Lasso — was overwhelmingly rejected by most Ecuadorians.
The first proposal was to grant the army the same functions as the national police, in order to purportedly “fight organised crime”. This was condemned by human rights groups as a mechanism to ramp up violence and repression against anti-government protesters. During the uprisings last year, Lasso’s interior minister labelled the protesters as “terrorists”, which was used to justify brutal police and military repression.
One of the most contentious proposals was to allow Ecuadorian citizens to be extradited for so-called “international organised crime”. Currently, the extradition of citizens is not allowed, regardless of the crime committed. The proposal was widely denounced as a way to further punish those opposed to the government. Given the government’s track record of labelling anti-government protesters as “terrorists” and “narcotraffickers”, it is easy to imagine how the laws would have been used to criminalise its opponents.
Another defeated referendum proposal was to decrease the number of seats in the National Assembly from 137 to 100, which are mostly elected from Ecuador’s 24 provinces. The proposal would have decreased representation from smaller provinces, many of which are Ecuador’s mining regions that have been subjected to dispossession by the government working on behalf of capitalist mining companies.
In the lead-up to the elections, Indigenous groups (such as CONAIE), trade unions and student associations campaigned against the referendum, saying that it went against the fundamental demands of the Ecuadorian people.
CONAIE celebrated the referendum’s rejection in a statement on February 9: “The ‘no’ vote in the eight referendum questions reflects the resounding rejection of the majority of the country to the Guillermo Lasso government.
“The people said ‘no’ to the failure to govern, ‘no’ to the lies, ‘no’ to the absent government — the people’s response was ‘no’ to Lasso,” the statement said.
While Lasso remains a tenuous hold on power, an approval rating of less than 20% and a narrowly survived impeachment attempt for his handling of the uprisings last year does not bode well for his future.