Ecuador Votes Amid Political Violence
Ecuador Votes Amid Political Violence
August 16, 2023
Voters will choose a new president who will finish Lasso’s current term and a new National Assembly. At least three political assassinations in recent weeks have stained the electoral process with blood, especially that of Fernando Villavicencio, one of the main presidential candidates. Faced with unprecedented violence, the question now is who will be the next leader to manage a country that appears to be adrift.
Polls agree that the candidate from the Citizens’ Revolution movement, Luisa González, maintains the lead. Earlier this month, she was more than 10 points ahead of her closest competitor. However, due to recent events and the presidential debate, her lead has significantly decreased. At the same time, it is anticipated that there will be a tight competition for the second place among four other candidates: Otto Sonnenholzner, Yaku Pérez, Jan Topic, and Christian Zurita, replacing Fernando Villavicencio after his assassination on August 9th. The latest polls show a close competition for the second place between Topic and Sonnenholzner.
Luisa González, whose candidacy is strongly supported by former president Rafael Correa, held various positions in his government. Among them, she served as Secretary of Punlic Administration, Secretary General of Correa’s Presidential Office and the Coordinator of the President’s Strategic Agenda. Her first elected position was as an assembly member for the province of Manabí for the 2021-2025 period, which was interrupted when President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly.
On the other hand, Sonnenholzner was the former vice president under Lasso’s predecessor, Lenín Moreno. His candidacy leads the Actuemos alliance, which brings together the SUMA and Avanza parties.
Yaku Pérez is a familiar face in politics, having secured third place in the 2021 presidential elections with support from the indigenous movement, which is now divided. In these elections, he participates on behalf of the Socialist, Democracy Yes, and Popular Unity parties.
Fernando Villavicencio presented himself as a champion against corruption. Following his assassination, the Construye movement designated Christian Zurita, a journalist who had accompanied Villavicencio in his corruption investigations for over 15 years, as the presidential candidate.
Jan Topic enters politics for the first time, making him the ‘outsider’ candidate. He aims to position himself as the Ecuadorian equivalent of Bukele to address insecurity. He ran with the support of the right-wing Social Christian party, in an alliance with the Democratic Center and Patriotic Society parties.
The other candidates: Xavier Hervas, Daniel Noboa, and Bolívar Armijos complete the ballot.
In this electoral process, the Correismo represented by Luisa González is reminding voters of the perceived economic successes of Ecuador under former president Correa. However, that same past includes allegations of corruption and other accusations, including the sentencing of the former president to 8 years in prison for bribery.
On the other side, there’s an anti-Correista movement, but the candidates also distance themselves from Lenín Moreno (2017-2021) and Guillermo Lasso (2021-2023).
Villavicencio's Assassination Stains the Electoral Campaign
The assassination of Fernando Villavicencio in the financial heart of Quito marks a turning point in the country’s political history. President Guillermo Lasso described it as a “political crime with terrorist characteristics.” The murder of Villavicencio, Pedro Briones soon after, and another which occurred three weeks earlier, of the mayor of Manta, Agustín Intriago, strikes at the hearts of Ecuadorians. It is no wonder that according to a July 2023 survey by Comunicaliza, crime and violence are the primary concerns of Ecuadorian voters.
The increase in political violence occurs at a time when President Lasso’s administration has a favorability of 18% (Opinion Profiles, July 2023), and the Constitutional Court has only approved one out of four decrees sent by the Executive. There are also questions about the slow execution of the Interior Ministry’s budget: only 8.8% has been utilized despite the security situation. There are also doubts about the effectiveness of the government-declared states of emergency.
After Villavicencio’s assassination, President Guillermo Lasso, in a message posted on his X social media account, expressed his condolences to the family and assured them that “this crime will not go unpunished.”
What will define Ecuador’s 2023 presidential elections?
Beyond the impact of political violence on the elections, this vote differs greatly from those in 2017 and 2021, as it comes at a difficult time for the country. Firstly, due to the anticipated arrival of the El Niño phenomenon, which will hit the Ecuadorian coast during the transition of the new government. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the country is mired in a security crisis that has not been resolved despite the State of Emergency decrees issued by the government. Lastly, the country will face economic challenges to increase national income.
Here are five urgent issues that the candidates need to address:
- Crime and Violence
Ecuador is facing its worst security crisis, with a high murder rate and crimes like extortion and robbery driving thousands of Ecuadorians to seek migration as their only solution. Police data shows that between January and July, over 4,000 violent deaths were recorded, and at the current rate, Ecuador could close 2023 with a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it the most violent country in the region.
- Impact of El Niño
The impact of the anticipated El Niño phenomenon could range between USD 3,000 million and 12,000 million, according to former Economy Minister Fausto Ortiz. This includes reconstruction expenses, economic and employment losses, production decline, and more. El Niño’s effects are expected to peak between October and November, hitting provinces like Santa Elena, Manabí, Esmeraldas, Guayas, and El Oro the hardest. This situation requires a clear plan for external financing and efficient internal spending optimization.
- Yasuní Exploitation – ITT
The state-owned Petroecuador projects net income losses of over USD 16,000 million in the coming years if the Yasuní-ITT oil block in the Amazon region isn’t exploited. This could lead to the loss of 48,500 direct and indirect jobs, along with losses of over USD 2,500 million in oil production and wasted investments each year. The next president needs a clear plan to address this issue.
- Fiscal Policy
Even before considering El Niño and ITT, public accounts have shown a growing deficit during 2023. The next president needs a plan to cover a potential budget gap of up to USD 5,000 million by the end of the year. This will likely require cutting current expenses and improving revenue collection.
Faced with resource scarcity and increased spending needs, there could be temptation to tap into international reserves (around USD 9,353 million in January). The next president needs clear measures to boost exports, attract foreign investment, and transparently finance the fiscal deficit as efficiently and affordably as possible.
Ecuador is holding a presidential election amid a political and economic crisis. The last three presidents have faced corruption allegations, and in 2023, the country teetered on the edge of instability following the attempted political trial of Guillermo Lasso and a significant increase in the homicide rate over the last decade.
The Ecuadorian electoral system includes two rounds for presidential elections. If no candidate surpasses 40% with a 10-point difference from the second place candidate, a runoff will be held. These elections will also choose the 137 members of the National Assembly. If a runoff is necessary in the presidential race, it will take place on October 15, 2023, according to the schedule set by the National Electoral Council.