From the invocation of the unprecedented muerte cruzada – the presidential power to dissolve congress – to the subsequent assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, this year’s election process has been packed with unexpected moments.
On Sunday 20 August, in the first round of voting, centre-right liberal Daniel Noboa garnered 24 per cent of votes, exceeding expectations. Ahead of him, left-leaning candidate Luisa González, who represents former socialist president Rafael Correa and his Correísmo movement, picked up 33 per cent of the vote.
But as neither candidate secured 50 per cent of the vote, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead, neither had gained enough support to win outright. Ecuador is now headed to a run-off on Sunday 15 October.
What has changed since the first round of votes in Ecuador’s elections?
‘It’s vital the new government receives a clear political mandate and a majority in a second round’, says Sebastián Hurtado, president at a political risk consultancy in Quito, ‘But voters’ demands are so urgent that many would have appreciated getting it all over with immediately after the first round’.
Voters are seeking a leader who can tackle the escalating security crisis and uncontrolled violence that plagues the nation, and reverse the effects of Ecuador’s slowing economy. While Correísmo can expect staunch support, which political scientist Simón Pachano points out is always around 30 per cent, he also reminds us that the majority of Ecuadorians voted for new options. ‘The first round basically reflected dissatisfaction with traditional politicians’, he affirms.
‘Both candidates took advantage of the short campaign [it lasted 35 days as opposed to the usual 45] where there was no time to discuss specific programmes and proposals’, says political expert Angelica Abad from Cuenca, claiming candidates will have had a tougher job in the second round convincing undecided voters to vote for them. ‘They’ve had to truly start discussing public policies and, with this, we’ve seen more differences, strengths, and weaknesses’.
The return of Correísmo
This year’s elections will be the fifth in which Correísmo has either won or contested a second round. ‘Its power is not to be underestimated’, argues Oswaldo Moreno Ramírez, a political analyst living in Guayaquil, ‘There’s a large group of people who are backing its return’.
Despite being the strongest and most consistent opposition, Correísmo doesn’t have an absolute majority and incites division among the electorate. While certain voters claim Correa’s 10 years of power were positive for Ecuador, others question acts of corruption, arrogance, and restrictions on freedom, fearing this will be perpetuated under González’s government.
‘The chosen leader will have to rule with a fragmented legislative assembly’, says Pachano, reminding us of the difficulties that come with a politically divided nation.
Part of the electorate, however, tries to look beyond the conflict. ‘Candidates should change their attitude to make sure they appeal to those voters who aren’t caught up in the Correísta – Anti-Correísta rift’, says Abad.
‘Noboa was the only centre-right candidate in the first round who didn’t promote his campaign by telling stories linking Correísmo with organised crime and drug trafficking’, says Moreno Ramírez, ‘Other candidates based their message on what seemed like Netflix narco-series scripts’.
‘I think it’s in Noboa’s best interest to propose an alternative of conciliation and unity’, says Hurtado, suggesting the candidate’s surprising success shows a fair part of the electorate is looking for a more conciliatory political option.
What do Ecuadorians think of Luisa González?
The only female candidate in the campaign and backed by a team of well-known party representatives, Luisa González’s Revolución Ciudadana party is the most influential in the country.
‘Ecudorians value the fact she’s a woman, as well as her loyalty and consistency with the political project she represents’, says Marcelo Jaramillo, a professor and former constitutional judge from Quito, ‘Nevertheless, many consider she doesn’t have the strength or leadership to confront the organised mafias present in our country’.
Voters like Fanny Vin Becerra, age 55, from Cañar, voted for González in the first round precisely because she represents Correa. ‘He was the best leader Ecuador has had’, Vin Becerra says. ‘I think González will govern in favour of the working class, whereas Noboa represents the same old right that only wants the rich to get richer’.
Despite this, critics question González’s subordination to the former president and suggest she doesn’t have her own criteria, making it difficult to know what she really stands for. ‘The government she proposes would take resources away from hard workers, and hand them to people who have no interest in earning them at their own expense’, says Victor Vásquez, from the coastal city of Salinas, in relation to the socialist stance of González’s party.
While González’s advantage is her strong electoral base and capacity to mobilise her Correísta followers, Pachano points out that this electoral base is very close to its limit. ‘She has less possibilities of growth than Noboa, or any other candidate that would have passed to the second round’, he affirms.
Will Daniel Noboa win the elections?
Political commentators see Noboa as having a good shot at taking the Carondelet chair [Ecuador’s presidential palace] for 21 months. ‘Alianza País [the former party of 2007-2017 president Rafael Correa] has been greatly discredited’, says Fernando López Parra, a professor at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. ‘Meanwhile, Noboa is seen as a young leader willing to improve security and employment, which are the slogans of his campaign’, he adds.
Many voters who spoke to LAB commented on Noboa’s excellent academic preparation, particularly impressed by his performance in the presidential debates: ‘You could really tell he’d got clued up and prepared himself’, says voter Fernanda Zambrano from Baños de Agua Santa, ‘I’m not sure how much success he’ll have this time round but, given his knowledge, and now he’s put himself out there, I think he’s in for a good chance of winning in 2025’.
López Parra commented that ‘his speech was not sophisticated, but simple, which helped him to capitalise on an image of confidence and a break with the actions of traditional politicians’.
‘Unlike the other candidates, he came across as proactive and non-confrontational’, agrees Jaramillo, ‘He also connected with the majority of young people, who represent about 60 per cent of the voting population’.
While his performance in office as an assembly member went more or less unnoticed, Noboa has since taken advantage of his capacity to build bridges with the candidates who did not make it to the final round, an advantage González lacks.
However, Noboa’s profile is somewhat handicapped by the image of his father, who was a five-time presidential candidate. Others feel this works in his favour. ‘His surname has been on the presidential ballot practically throughout this century, but that doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy of his father’, says Moreno Ramírez.
Will presidential candidates respect the Yasuní and Chocó Andino referendums?
During the first round of presidential elections, Ecuadorians also voted in two historic referendums around the protection of nature. 68 per cent of the Quito Metropolitan District voted ‘yes’ to prohibiting mining in the Chocó Andino biosphere reserve; 58.96 per cent of the nation voted in favour of banning oil drilling in Bloque 43-ITT in the Amazonian Yasuní National Park. Noboa is included among these voters, basing his decision on the grounds that it wasn’t economically viable to continue. González, on the other hand, said she’d need the annual $1.2 billion income from Bloque 43 for the police, education, and health sectors, and voted ‘no’.
However, Noboa has also announced that he plans to expand mining operations. If he wins, this decision would intensify damage to the Amazon. Although the Rights of Nature were enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution in 2008, it seems Ecuador’s forest and rivers may be at threat whoever wins.
What’s in store for Ecuador?
Contemplating who will come out on top, Noboa is seen by his voters as the better option to boost the economy. ‘He encourages foreign investment, aquaculture, and livestock production – sectors which have been forgotten in our economy’, says Vásquez.
‘Under González there would be no economic activation’, he continues, ‘We’d see the same stagnation in development as we did under Correa and his successor, Lenín Moreno, who was sponsored by Correa when he ran for president [in 2017]’.
This time round, 16 per cent of the votes collectively won by Zurita and Villavicencio [two of the eight candidates in the first round], a hard anti-Correísta vote, are thought to automatically go to Noboa.
‘If Noboa wins, he’ll seek reelection in 2025 to govern for four years, so he’d have to be very careful not to make unpopular decisions’, says Jaramillo, explaining that, due to the short mandate of 18 months, the electorate is trying not to raise their expectations.
As the new leader takes office in November, Ecuadorians will be watching how they address issues across the three regions of the Pacific Coast, the Andean highlands, and the Amazon Basin, which all face very different social, economic, and cultural problems.
A crucial turning point for the nation after years of frustration with the previous government, Ecuadorians are hopeful that Sunday’s elections will set a more positive tone for the future.