October 27, 2023
On October 15, Ecuadorians returned to the ballot box to elect a new president. The runoff took place almost two months after the August 20 first-round snap elections called by President Guillermo Lasso in May, after he dissolved the legislature to avoid impeachment amid allegations of corruption. Following months of campaigning centered around Ecuador’s skyrocketing violence and struggling economy, Daniel Noboa, the conservative candidate and son of banana magnate Álvaro Noboa, won with 51.83 percent of the valid vote. Luisa González, the left-of-center, correísta candidate, received 48.17 percent. Turnout, in both the first and second rounds, was approximately 82 percent.
Despite revelations by Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, on October 12 that the president-elect owns at least two Panamanian shell companies, which should disqualify him from holding office under Ecuadorian law, Noboa is now set to take office some time in late November. He will govern for the remainder of Lasso’s term, until May 2025.
The second-round outcome put a damper on enthusiasm over territorial gains that González had made for the Citizens’ Revolution (Revolución Ciudadana, RC, the political movement of former President Rafael Correa), in the first round, when she emerged as the leading candidate with 33 percent of the valid vote. The first-round vote expanded support for correísmo beyond the coastal base it saw in 2021’s presidential elections; this time, the RC had first-place victories in three Amazonian provinces and several key highland provinces, including Pichincha, where the capital city Quito is located.
In the second round, however, González kept a hold on the demographically important coastal provinces, where she won all but one, but dropped one Amazonian province — securing victory in only two. Significantly, González lost in the majority of urban districts in the populous cities of Quito and Guayaquil. She was also defeated in every highland province, and in the Galapagos Islands.
Noboa, who had initially polled around 3 percent early on in the electoral campaign, but managed to secure 23 percent of the valid vote in the first round, also won a majority in provinces previously won by Christian Zurita, the replacement candidate for Fernando Villavicencio, who was assassinated on August 9.
Some analysts have blamed González’s highland defeat on the RC’s unpopularity among the Indigenous population. However, preliminary analyses of electoral data suggest that while González’s results were unfavorable in central highland provinces such as Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, and Tungurahua, where the Indigenous vote is important, this can primarily be attributed to Noboa-heavy votes in provincial capitals. In the rural highland municipalities with the largest Indigenous populations, González actually came in first place.
Ecuadorians abroad, who were largely unable to vote in the first round due to the collapse of the electronic voting platform set up for the diaspora, were able to exercise their right to vote in person in the runoff. The Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observation Mission’s (EOM) preliminary report states that participation abroad exceeded 30 percent in the second round, up from 12.6 percent in the first, with minimal issues that were ultimately resolved. Noboa was first place in two overseas constituencies: the constituency for Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa (with most voters located in the Latin American region), and in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, González received a majority in the Europe, Asia, and Oceania constituency. However, because of security and logistical issues, elections were not held in Israel, Nicaragua, Belarus, or Russia.
At 8:00 p.m. on election night, Luisa González conceded. In a unifying speech, she congratulated Noboa’s supporters on their victory, voiced her hope that he would fulfill his campaign promises, and emphasized that the RC did not allege fraud. This was a reference to the RC’s swift recognition of defeat in 2021 by then presidential candidate Andrés Arauz, in contrast to Lasso’s 2017 defeat when he cried fraud, setting off protests and violence in Quito (despite recognition of the electoral results by electoral observer missions and the international community). González also called for an end to the hatred and polarization that has characterized the political scene in recent years and that has enabled the persecution of the RC and its leaders. She said that Noboa could count on the RC’s support in key areas, particularly on security, even though she made clear that the RC would oppose certain proposals, including privatizations.
In a much shorter speech, Noboa congratulated González on her campaign and thanked those who supported his “new” and “youthful” political project. He ended by saying he would begin rebuilding a new Ecuador the next day. The OAS EOM commended the prompt acknowledgment of the results by both candidates in their preliminary report.
Comparison with the 2021 Elections
These elections bore a resemblance to the second round of the 2021 elections. Like in 2023, the 2021 vote occurred amid a backdrop of rising violence, poverty, and inequality, largely stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp reversal of policies of the previous decade. Correísta candidate Andrés Arauz, González’s 2023 vice presidential candidate, was beaten by Guillermo Lasso, a conservative multimillionaire and former banker, with largely the same first-round and second-round results.
It should be noted that the 2021 elections included what many allege to be undue intervention on the part of Prosecutor General Diana Salazar, who initiated an investigation into Arauz before the second round based on bogus claims that his campaign had been financed by the ELN, a Colombian armed group. Arauz was never charged and is no longer under investigation. These accusations occurred within the broader context of former President Lenín Moreno’s targeting of key correístas, including Rafael Correa, through lawfare, and moves to destroy and disrupt the movement’s party structure, pushing them out of their original party and suspending the one they subsequently joined. This forced correísmo to join a preexisting party to field candidates in the elections.
In 2021, Lasso emerged victorious with 52.36 percent of the valid vote, surpassing Arauz’s 47.64 percent. This means that the difference between the results of the 2021 and 2023 elections was less than 1 percentage point.
One significant difference, however, was the record-high percentage of null votes in the 2021 election — a historic figure, at 16.27 percent. With valid votes translated back into total votes, a form of counting that does not eliminate null and blank votes from the tally, Lasso secured 43 percent, while Arauz got 39.12 percent. In 2023, González obtained 44.06 percent of total votes and Noboa 47.41 percent. This shows that correísmo did 4.94 percent better in 2023, and actually surpassed Lasso’s 2021 result. For his part, Noboa outperformed Lasso by 4.41 percent.
Geographically, the result was also similar. With three exceptions, Noboa won the same provinces Lasso had won in 2021. Noboa also won the same overseas constituencies as Lasso.
Reasons Behind Daniel Noboa’s Success
Analysts have attributed Noboa’s success to a range of factors; many point to his performance in the first debate, where he stood out by avoiding confrontation and focusing on policy. And Noboa’s description of himself as a “noboist,” rather than as an “anticorreísta,” transcends the correísmo/anticorreísmo dichotomy that has dominated Ecuadorian politics for the last 15 years, but that appears to be running out of steam — particularly among young voters with little recollection of the Rafael Correa decade or what came before it.
Furthermore, Noboa’s image as an “outsider” — despite his prior role as a member of the National Assembly, and that he comes from Ecuador’s richest family — capitalized on a rising tide of antiestablishment politics. Noboa may have also captured some “soft” correísta votes, a key pillar of his strategy that sought to attract people who do not identify as correístas but who may be nostalgic for various aspects of Correa’s presidency.
After his successful appearance in the first debate, Noboa scaled up his campaign on social networks, and on Facebook especially, with large-scale spending on microsegmented ads, particularly targeting young voters. In addition, while he did not perform nearly as well in the second debate, he kept up a robust post-debate presence on social media.
Media coverage of the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, according to certain observers, also meant that significant numbers of undecided voters — who might otherwise have voted for González and the RC — decided against it, in the context of an intensification of anticorreísta discourse that helped to boost Noboa. The revelation by Christian Zurita and Villavicencio’s widow of leaked testimony from the Villavicencio investigation, days before the second vote, which purportedly blamed Correa for the candidate’s murder, might have further intensified these dynamics. The situation was not helped by the prosecutor general’s office’s failure to declare the leaks false.
Furthermore, despite Noboa’s attempts to distance himself from the correísmo/anticorreísmo dichotomy, the reality that emerged after he advanced to the second round was that anticorreísta forces rallied around him, with an aggressive campaign across many media platforms. Moreover, hardcore anticorreista voters also saw Noboa as the lesser-of-two-evils, as evidenced by his victory in constituencies previously won by the staunch anticorreísta Christian Zurita.
Challenges of a Noboa Government
Daniel Noboa will have a lot on his plate once he enters Carondelet, Ecuador’s presidential palace. He will take the reins of a polarized country with record-breaking levels of deadly violence that has taken 4,900 lives this year alone. He will also have to contend with crumbling institutions, a large informal economy, historic rates of out-migration, the worst post-pandemic economic recovery in South America, and the imminent onslaught of the El Niño phenomenon.
Noboa faces additional challenges. He has limited political experience, having served as a legislator for only two years, and he lacks a political structure able to support him. He was not a member of his own electoral alliance before the campaign, and only loosely controls around 10 percent of the legislature, as the two parties in his alliance maintain their independence. Noboa will also be confronted with conflicts of interest, with El País noting that “virtually every economic decision he will face will affect his family fortune in one way or another.” Furthermore, Noboa’s announcement that he intends to run for the presidency in 2025 has prompted some analysts to suggest that he will begin planning for reelection on day one, prioritizing policies that yield immediate results to garner support, while deferring longer-term structural reforms for the future.
As noted above, one of Noboa’s main challenges will be the National Assembly, Ecuador’s 137-seat legislature. The largest party in the body is the RC, which will have 51 seats. Four of these represent Ecuadorians abroad, who had to reelect their six legislative representatives on October 15 after the collapse of the diaspora’s electronic voting platform in the August 20 elections. With 28 seats, including 1 from the diaspora, the next strongest bloc belongs to Construye, which backed the candidacy of Fernando Villavicencio, and later Christian Zurita. Next is the traditional Social Christian Party (PSC) with 18 seats, 4 of which come from an alliance with smaller parties. Noboa’s ADN movement holds 14 seats, with 1 from the diaspora. The remaining 26 seats belong to 11 different parties, each with no more than 8, or independent representatives.
Compared to 2021, there are three notable changes in this National Assembly. One is the sizable reduction in Pachakutik’s presence. This Indigenous party saw its seats decrease from 27 in 2021 — the second-largest legislative bloc — to just 5 in 2023, mainly as a result of internal divisions within the Indigenous movement and its decision not to field a presidential candidate. Izquierda Democrática, which held 18 seats in 2021, dropped to none in 2023 — largely a consequence of its support for the Lasso government. This was the same reason that led CREO, Lasso’s party, not to field candidates in these elections, and to disappear from the legislature.
Noboa’s 14 seats are a far cry from the 70 he needs to form a majority. In order to effectively govern, he will either need to form a coalition with at least two parties, or negotiate every legislative proposal individually, a complicated and time-consuming task. Despite the declarations by one ADN legislator that the party wishes to “form one single bloc with 137 assembly representatives,” Noboa may have to choose between courting his right or his left, especially given the red line that Construye has drawn against working with correismo.
As long as Noboa does not pursue privatizations, works to honor his campaign promises, and addresses the migratory situation, Luisa González, Rafel Correa, RC legislators, and the RC itself have all publicly declared their willingness to work with Noboa and their readiness for an open dialogue in the National Assembly. On the other hand, María Paula Romo, the de facto leader of Construye, has made it very clear that, while legislative cooperation with the Noboa government is a possibility, her party would reject any deal with correísmo and would refuse to support Noboa if he negotiated with Correa’s movement. She also said that her party had no intention of joining Noboa’s cabinet.
The National Assembly’s composition, and the pressing challenges confronting Ecuador, have prompted Noboa and his vice president-elect, Verónica Abad, to express their intention to circumvent gridlock. They plan to do so by proposing laws known as “laws of economic urgency,” which the National Assembly will have a maximum of one month to process, and through executive decrees. Noboa has said that he plans to propose one law of economic urgency a month, and Abad stated in an interview that the new government intends to issue one decree a week.
They also plan to circumvent the legislature by holding referendums, despite the OAS EOM concluding that the Ecuadorian people are experiencing voting fatigue. Noboa has been vague about this, but has said he wants to consult the population on the role of the armed forces, and on security and judicial reform. Noboa has announced that he plans to hold a referendum on these topics in the first hundred days of his term.
It is still largely unknown who will serve in Noboa’s cabinet. However, Noboa presented his transition team during a meeting with Lasso the day after the election. The team consisted mostly of businesspeople close to the Noboa Group, Álvaro Noboa’s conglomerate. These included Gabriela Sommerfeld, a wealthy businesswoman with ties to the construction, tourism, and airline industries, who Noboa has said would head the ministry of foreign affairs. Additionally, Alberto Dahik’s presence caused controversy. Dahik, a former vice president in the 1990s, and a former minister of finance, is a die-hard anticorreísta. He has been described by the major news outlet Primicias as a “free-market” economist and a conservative politician. Dahik spent 16 years in exile in Costa Rica after fleeing Ecuador when the Supreme Court issued an order of pretrial detention against him on embezzlement charges. He returned in 2011 following the lifting of his detention order and often appears as a guest pundit on news and talk shows. He has said he intends to serve solely as an informal advisor.
Disclaimer: Andrés Arauz has been previously employed as a Senior Research Fellow at CEPR.