June 15, 2023
The current political context
In the last few months, Ecuador has been embroiled in political turmoil. In the face of a deep political crisis and plummeting popularity, President Guillermo Lasso eventually opted for dissolving the National Assembly on May 17. The Ecuadorian Constitution allows for the president to dissolve parliament once in his term, but stipulates that new presidential and legislative elections have to be held within six months. Electoral authorities have set the general elections for August 20.
Lasso was sworn in as president on May 24, 2021. The then 65-year-old conservative ex-CEO of one of Ecuador’s largest banks had run, for the third time, on a pro-business platform and on the promise of attracting foreign direct investment to the country. But analysts have noted that his campaign promises have not materialized, and that Ecuador has instead been sliding into institutional chaos and a dire security crisis.
As things stand, Ecuador has one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas. In 2017, the homicide rate stood at 5.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; it has since risen to 25.5 in 2022, the highest in the country’s modern history. Increased levels of drug trafficking and reduced state capacity have fueled homicides. Prison violence and massacres have also become recurrent, claiming more than 400 lives since 2020. In response, President Lasso has declared several states of emergency, but to no avail.
In February, voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the Lasso government by rejecting all eight questions of a constitutional referendum that would have, among other things, allowed for the extradition of Ecuadorians and reformed the country’s legislature and courts. At the same time, the opposition came out victorious in local elections, with progressives winning important mayoral races in the two largest cities (Quito and Guayaquil), and gubernatorial races (provincial governors are called prefects in Ecuador) in the most populous provinces.
Since January, serious corruption scandals directly or indirectly implicating Lasso have also increasingly weakened his hold on power. Lasso’s brother-in-law and main business associate, Danilo Carrera, has been accused of a cash-for-appointments scheme and fake contracts in the energy sector. These involved a close associate of Carrera, a “fixer” named Rubén Cherres. Lasso was later accused of having blocked a police investigation into Cherres’s dealings with a narcotrafficking organization. After several months on the run from the police, Cherres was found dead — murdered — on March 31.
These accusations of corruption against Lasso finally led the National Assembly to start an impeachment process. On March 29, the Constitutional Court gave the green light to pursue one of three grounds for impeachment presented by the National Assembly: knowingly turning a blind eye to overpriced contracts in Ecuador’s state-run oil shipping company, Flopec — a form of embezzlement.
However, a few days before the vote in the National Assembly, and in a last-ditch attempt to avoid impeachment, Lasso triggered the “mutual death” clause of the Ecuadorian Constitution that allowed him to dissolve parliament. The move, which some lawmakers claim was carried out illegally, immediately dissolved the legislative body, but required Lasso to call for new elections within six months. Whereas impeachment would have put an immediate end to his presidency, with Lasso’s vice president finishing his term, the dissolution of Congress allows Lasso to rule by decree until a new election is held and the winner is sworn in. Although he had the option to run for office again, Lasso chose not to.
Researchers in the United States have also uncovered that Lasso holds assets in US jurisdictions through a network of shell companies in Florida, and more recently in Delaware and South Dakota. Ecuadorian law prohibits individuals who own assets in offshore tax havens from holding public office, and Florida is on Ecuador’s list of tax havens. Despite Lasso’s constant denial of these allegations, journalists from the Miami Herald and Plan V recently discovered that one of these shell companies hired a Miami-based PR firm to improve Lasso’s image in US and British media, providing further evidence of Lasso’s ties to the shell companies and offshore holdings.
US lawmakers have taken notice of these successive scandals, with several House members calling on the Biden administration to investigate Lasso and his brother-in-law, Danilo Carrera. In an April 12 letter to President Biden, members of Congress wrote, “Given … the credible allegations of corruption at the highest levels in Ecuador, we feel that your administration should review our bilateral relations with that country’s government.” The letter also called on the Biden administration “to look into the matter of President Lasso’s and Danilo Carrera’s assets in the United States”. A June 6 congressional letter described the allegations that Lasso has “been using US jurisdictions to evade taxes and hide assets” as “highly credible” and reiterated demands for an investigation by the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury into Lasso’s properties.
Preparations for the August 20 elections are now in full swing; eight presidential and vice presidential tickets have been presented. The deadline for candidates to register was June 13, though the electoral authorities will carry out a vetting process to ensure the eligibility of all those registered. This process is set to be completed by August 6, with a campaign formally taking place between August 8 and 17.
The registered tickets pending this vetting process are:
|Alliance / Movement
|(Unidad Popular, Partido Socialista Ecuatoriano, and Democracia Sí)
|Alianza Acción Democrática Nacional (ADN) (Movimientos Pueblo, Igualdad y Democracia, and Mover)
|Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana
|Alianza por un País sin Miedo (Partido Social Cristiano, Sociedad Patriótica, and Centro Democrático)
|Alianza Actuemos (Avanza and SUMA)
|Erika Cristina Paredes
|Movimiento Amigo (Acción Movilizadora Independiente Generando Oportunidades Ecuador)
|Movimiento Construye Ecuador
|Luz Marina Vega
The Revolución Ciudadana (RC) party of former president Rafael Correa (2007–2017) is represented by Luisa González, a former minister and member of the recently dissolved National Assembly. While it is still too early to tell, there is broad consensus that González is a leading candidate. Opinions are more divided on the issue of how she would fare in the event of a runoff. In Ecuador, runoffs can be avoided if a candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over the next contender. González’s running mate is Andrés Arauz, who ran in the 2021 election and won the first round with 32.7 percent of the vote to Lasso’s 19.7 percent. However, Arauz was ultimately defeated in the runoff, with a final tally of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.
Businessman and former mercenary Jan Topic, who claims to have fought in Ukraine, Libya, and the Central African Republic, is very much an outsider, with no prior role in politics. His unambiguous security-centric platform has generated a good deal of early media interest due to the ongoing security crisis in Ecuador. Topic is being endorsed by the Alianza por un País Sin Miedo coalition, which includes the historic, Guayaquil-based Partido Social Cristiano (PSC), as well as the Partido Sociedad Patriótica of former president Lucio Gutiérrez, and Centro Democrático.
A former member of the National Assembly, Fernando Villavicencio, who made his name as a die-hard anti-correista and bombastic finger-pointer on issues of corruption, is also running. Perceived as a Lasso ally, Villavicencio has opposed impeaching the president despite chairing the commission tasked with carrying it out. He is supported by the Movimiento Construye.
Otto Sonnenholzner will be running on a conservative, pro-business platform called the Actuemos coalition. He was vice president (2018–2020) during the Lenín Moreno presidency (2017–2021). Despite his association with a president with historically low approval ratings, which could affect his electoral performance, Sonnenholzner will receive the support of important sectors of the Ecuadorian elite.
Two candidates from the 2021 elections are running again. The first is Yaku Pérez, who came a close third in 2021, and claimed that he had been kept from the runoff because Lasso had committed fraud. He is running with the support of certain sectors of the Left and of the indigenist party Pachakutik, despite Pérez having left the party in May 2021. Pérez is standing for the Claro que se Puede coalition on a broadly environmentalist platform.
The second is Xavier Hervas, who finished fourth in 2021 and is remembered for having run a successful, “apolitical” campaign, mostly on Tik Tok, with some significant support among younger voters. He is running for the Movimiento Reto (MR).
Daniel Noboa is the son of the banana magnate Álvaro Noboa, Ecuador’s famous billionaire and five-time unsuccessful presidential candidate. He is running for the Acción Democrática Nacional coalition.
Bolívar Armijos is the president of a farmer-based political organization called Fuerza Rural and is running for the Movimiento Amigo.
Free and fair elections
Elections in Ecuador have largely been free and fair. However, in the last few years, there have been several attempts to bar certain candidates and parties from the ballot. The 2021 elections in particular were marred by several attempts to stop correista candidates, favored in the polls, from running; this in the context of many former members of Correa’s cabinet living in exile and Correa himself having been granted political asylum in Belgium.
In September 2020, 13 former Latin American presidents issued a statement expressing their “deep concern over decisions adopted by the Ecuadorian authorities” to exclude political parties from participating in upcoming elections, and warning that “The biggest threat right now is that the government will increase its grip on power by excluding the leading opposition candidate and his party.”
In December 2020, several members of the US Congress “condemn[ed] the attempts by the Moreno administration to stifle dissent, persecute political opponents and prevent the country’s leading opposition movement from freely participating in [the February 2021] elections.” A few days later, the Arauz-Carlos Rabascall ticket was the last to finally be recognised by the electoral authorities, but the 2021 elections were marred by several attempts at postponing the runoff in fear of a correista victory.
There have been, so far, no such attempts to ban candidates in these upcoming elections. But on June 13, when González and Arauz went to the National Electoral Council (CNE) to register their candidacies, they were tear gassed by the police. González had to be attended to in hospital.
Disclaimer: Andrés Arauz has been previously employed as a Senior Research Fellow at CEPR.