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Inauguración de elecciones presidencial y legislativas anticipadas en Ecuador, 2023. Foto: Presidencia de la República del Ecuador

Elections in Ecuador: first approximations

21 August, 2023 | Edgar Isch López

The current electoral process in Ecuador has had unprecedented conditions since its inception, due to the implementation of the “cross death” decreed by Lasso to avoid a certain impeachment resolved in the National Assembly. The discredit of the government and the Assembly, which in no case exceeded 16% approval, was expressed in the lack of social opposition to the measure, without placing any hope in it and rather as a deepening of the political crisis. It also brought about an extremely short election campaign, which favored checkbooks and political structures that were most mentioned in the media.

The escalation of criminal violence, which is increasingly affecting ordinary Ecuadorians, was presented for the first time as the central issue in people’s concerns from different social strata, mainly in the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods. This changed a large part of the social debates, although popular consultations linked to curbing extractivism brought about other types of ideological and political disputes.

The infamous assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate known for his actions regarding corruption cases, shook up the electoral environment in its final days, in a manner that was initially unclear but unprecedented in previous processes. However, it posed the danger that Ecuador may reach its path to becoming a “narco-state”. The high number of assassinations of officials, threats, especially judges being bought off, massacres in prisons controlled by inmates, assassinations of leaders and local authorities, and the denouncement by the North American ambassador who intervened in our politics confirming the existence of narco-generals who have not been sanctioned, are part of the crisis that worsened with Villavicencio’s assassination.

The scenario was conducive for the elections to serve as an expression of social discontent, both due to disappointment with the government and the Assembly and prospects for the future, seeking a way out but not knowing exactly where. That is why a large part of the votes were in search of something “new,” but without deep analysis and even less class analysis.

Something about the results

The results until close to midnight, with the majority of the processed ballots exceeding 90% in the presidential race, confirmed trends that were practically present from the beginning of the count. But they also brought some novelties. First, that the differentiation of candidates and programs was not decisive, leading people to seek something new without understanding what it was and therefore supporting candidates like Daniel Noboa (who advances to the second round with 23.78%), an oligarch who was an assembly member but was unknown to the population, or Jan Topic, a businessman who promoted himself as a mercenary capable of addressing insecurity but ultimately reached 14.65%. At the same time, those who presented themselves as continuers of the last two governments, Moreno and Lasso, were rejected, such as Sonnenholzner (7.1%) and even Villavicencio, who appeared fourth or fifth in most of the campaign’s polls.

On the other hand, contrary to previous experiences, there was significant debate this time, which was unexpected. The conditions following Villavicencio’s assassination generated greater expectation and, beyond being observed by about half of the voters, it became a topic of constant dialogue. This mainly benefited Noboa, who was not attacked by his competitors as they considered him unimportant. And it temporarily benefited Topic with his insistence that he was the one who could confront crime using more and more violence.

Ecuadorian society is in shock, especially but not only because of the issue of violence and organized crime. As Naomi Klein would show, shock allows people to even give up rights in order to get out of the hole. This explains the generalization of the demand for a hard hand, and this became a widespread discourse used by Topic, who had the support of the Social Christian Party, a traditional far-right party that is in decline. The space of this party will probably be filled by these new representatives of reactionary positions, but with greater skill in their discourse and in advertising forms to reach especially young people, as seen in this candidacy.

In the case of the Correísmo, it is ratified with 33.24% of the votes, which has the most voted structure, as happened in this same year in the elections of mayors and prefects, from where they were able to also make the new campaign (for example, in Quito the mayor pointed out that his candidate guaranteed the second phase of the metro that is not yet in operation). They have the highest vote despite campaign errors or the persecution they carried out against Villavicencio, which generated doubts in certain sectors about their interest in the death of the rival. However, the authoritarian image and its national character surpassed that the candidate Luisa González repeated over and over again her offer to return to the past, to do what they already did, as if the circumstances had not changed. Her speech no longer even mentions the so-called “21st century socialism”, but she maintains a speech that sticks in important sectors of the population of the different regions.

As for those who supported Fernando Villavicencio, they had to present a new candidate in a few days and practically without being allowed to campaign. It is also the communicator Christian Zurita who not only insisted on the proposals of his predecessor (whose photo was obligatorily on the ballot), but also presented himself as another outsider who had no responsibility with previous governments. As a whole, popular solidarity, the good image of the new candidate and the votes previously obtained, allowed him to add 16.49% reaching third place.

The other surprise was the decline in the vote for Yaku Pérez, who represented an alliance of left-wing and center-left forces (Popular Unity, Socialist Party, Somos Agua, Democracy Yes and a sector of Pachakutik). The non-integration of joint lists with Pachakutik and the refusal of the national leadership of the Conaie to support this candidacy, affected the vote of the two forces in several provinces. Although for much of the campaign he was in an expectant position, always with the possibility of reaching the second round, the changes caused by the murder of Villavicencio or being seen by some as insufficiently determined against crime after the debate, affected him to the point of ending with 3.92% of the votes.

Finally, the results and the campaign showed that in this first round, the fragmentation between correistas and anticorreistas was less noticeable and important. For the majority of voters and especially for the youngest, it was not the central issue as some wanted to place it. This, in part, due to the dispersion of forces and, on the other hand, due to the new themes that were presented.

The importance of popular consultations

Along with the presidential and assembly elections, two popular consultations were held that arose from popular initiative and will have continental importance. The first, of a national nature, to define whether the crude of block 43 or ITT, located in Yasuní National Park and next to the life zone of two peoples in voluntary isolation. This consultation should have taken place when the necessary support signatures had already been obtained, but it was illegally prevented by the Correísmo, after Rafael Correa resigned from that human and environmental protection project that had been adopted by civil society and offered to the world. Now, the exploitation is suspended and within one year the state oil company must leave the area.

The second, valid for the Metropolitan District of Quito, consulted to prevent metallic mining on any scale and thus protect the unique ecosystems of the Chocó Andino and its inhabitants. Mining has been the flag of the last three governments and has had an important boost at the same time that it confronts the populations that observe the destruction of the living conditions of future generations.

In both cases, extractivism was decisively defeated. The term, its meaning and the consequences of environmental destruction and accumulation of wealth in a few hands, have been debated by important sectors, especially the youth. The fallacious but millionaire campaign of national and transnational companies that had the support of ministers and the Central Bank, was defeated by the social organizations that promoted the consultations, the left and by the majority of the population. In the case of the consultation on Yasuní, the Yes achieved around 60% of the vote and, in the case of the Chocó Andino, the Yes obtained around 68%.

The political and economic right were defeated, but an aspect that is evident is that, despite this, the same populations that voted for the yes simultaneously gave their vote to those who promote those extractive projects. On the contrary, they did not give a majority support to the only candidate who in his history has shown himself to be a defender of water and nature, as is the case of Yaku Pérez.

This contradiction demonstrates the need for a greater debate on the type of development that Ecuador should promote and where the forces and representatives who can promote it will come from if social justice, equity and the enjoyment of human rights and nature are to be fostered.

With a view to the second round

Correísmo has an electoral base on which it can count, with a presence in the main electoral districts and will undoubtedly have the largest parliamentary bloc, although hardly a majority. This favors it, but it is known that it has a ceiling of possible growth and that it can hardly achieve one and a half of the votes. From where it can get new votes is fundamentally from the votes of the Christian Democratic right, with which it has on other occasions been able to establish agreements. The other expressions of the right most possibly support Noboa and as far as a good part of the popular sectors that had their own candidacies, they do not forget the persecution experienced in a government that put a trial for “terrorism” to more than 200 popular leaders and none of the oligarchy.

As for Noboa, he appears to have more chances of growth. He will have the support of a good part of the voters of other candidacies, with the exception of those of Yaku Pérez, as well as a significant presence in the Assembly with candidates from his party and other reactionary expressions. It is early to know if that will be enough to win the presidency.

On the other hand, as in the last election, there may be an increase in the null vote but in a smaller proportion than in 2021. However, its weight will be important for the final count of support to define the electoral result.

The dispute between the two finalist candidates for the votes is just beginning to take shape. However, what comes after this first round and the popular consultations for many organized sectors, once again, is to support the aspirations of Ecuadorians and Ecuadorians, taking the people to carry out a debate that goes beyond the conjuncture, that raises the possibilities of the future of Ecuador and the new battles that the exploited will have to give to turn the tide of history. As we already know from social experience, an electoral process is not the beginning or the end, but only a moment in the battles that confront social classes. Although a one-and-a-half-year government comes, combined with the new electoral campaign, the songs for concertation will always be asked for so that those below put themselves under the orders of those who dominate. Will this debate be held now in the scenarios of work, housing and study?