Former banker Guillermo Lasso outperformed all polls on Sunday to win Ecuador’s presidential elections. While surveys had predicted a head-to-head race between Lasso and Andrés Arauz, the candidate backed by former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, the conservative won the second round of the election with a five-point lead. With 98.4% of ballots counted, Lasso has won 52.5% of the vote, while Arauz has taken 47.5%. The results are a huge blow to Correa, who had handpicked Arauz to lead the return of the so-called “Citizens’ Revolution,” the political project launched by the former president.
Correa had been following the campaign from Belgium, where he has been living with his Belgian wife since 2017 when he ended his third term in office. The former president, who has been convicted of bribery and corruption charges, bet everything on Arauz, but lost. Lasso’s victory also affects the region, as it curbs the recent leftist shift in politics seen in South America with the presidential wins of Alberto Fernández in Argentina and Luis Arce in Bolivia.
“On May 24, we will assume with responsibility the challenge of changing Ecuador,” said Lasso on Sunday, when it became clear that Arauz would not be able to overtake his lead. In his televised victory speech, Lasso made many references to religion and God, saying: “I thank God for all the blessings he has granted me throughout my life,” “I ask God to give us patience and conviction to achieve happiness for Ecuadorians,” and “May God bless Ecuador.”
Lasso also made it clear that he would not support the growing demands from Ecuador’s women’s movement to decriminalize abortion. Under the current laws, abortion is illegal except in cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk, or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual crime against a mentally disabled woman. “I have spoken to young pregnant women. With my wife, we will protect them so that they can continue at school, so that they can continue at university,” he said.
The results confirm the victory of the anti-Correa movement over pro-Correa supporters, a dispute that defined the election campaign from day one. While Lasso toned down his combative discourse in his acceptance speech, he did make a discrete jab at Correa’s reputation as an authoritarian. Without mentioning Correa, Lasso said Ecuadorians did not need to be afraid of “disagreeing with the president.” “Express your ideas freely,” he said. Lasso also reached out to the opposition. “I did not enter politics to get rich or to persecute anyone,” he said, in a clear reference to the prison sentence handed down to Correa – charges he has blamed on political persecution from his former ally Lenín Moreno, who was elected president in 2017.
While Lasso gave his address, Arauz accepted his defeat from a hotel in the center of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The two did not hear each other’s remarks – their television appearances were at the same time – but it seemed that Arauz had responded to Lasso’s overture. “It is easy to think that division is only created by the other, but now is the time for democracy, to end political persecution,” he said. “Mr Lasso, I invite you to respect the rule of law, without making it a stigma to have different values or principles. We do not want to continue locking up Ecuadorians for their way of thinking.”
Strength of indigenous movement
Lasso won 2.6 million more votes in the presidential runoff on Sunday than in the first round on February 7. Arauz, in contrast, received less than one million more votes in the second round. Correa mistakenly thought that Arauz, a 36-year-old who was virtually unknown until the campaign, would be able to channel enough support to win the election. But while Argentina saw a return of Kichernism – the political movement based on the ideals of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – with the win of Alberto Fernández and Bolivia elected Luis Arce as president, which allowed former Bolivian president Evo Morales to return from exile, Ecuador was not to follow the leftist tide.
Ecuador is not Argentina or Bolivia, where there is only one main leftist party. Arauz also faced opposition from other progressive candidates such as Yaku Peréz of the indigenous party Pachakutik and Xavier Hervas of the Democratic Left (ID). Pachakutik won 1.8 million votes in the first round of the election, just 30,000 fewer than Lasso.
In the elections for the National Assembly, which took place at the same time as the first round of the presidential vote, Pachakutik won in 13 of the country’s 24 provinces and secured 27 seats. This will make Pachakutik the second-largest parliamentary group when the new term begins at the end of May. Union for Hope (UNES), the coalition led by Arauz, has the highest number of seats with 49, while ID has 18 and Lasso’s party Creating Opportunities (CREO) has 12. The fact that most indigenous voters preferred Lasso, a candidate whose platform is far removed from their calls for change, should be of concern to the pro-Correa movement. The indigenous vote, which cannot be easily divided along left and right political lines, is ready to overtake Correa as the main leftist opposition. Lasso, meanwhile, will take office with Pachakutik holding the keys to governability from the National Assembly.
English version by Melissa Kitson.