Will Ecuador turn left in today’s elections?

By Mike Phipps

If the country’s polls are to be believed, Ecuador could today become the latest Latin American country to move away from the International Monetary Fund and United States and elect a progressive, anti-imperialist government.

Successive polls show Andrés Arauz of the Unión por la Esperanza (Union for Hope) coalition holding a commanding lead. Only 35 years old, Arauz is an economist and a follower of Rafael Correa, the popular president of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017, in whose government he served from 2015 to 2017.

Initially, he wanted to select the former president as his running mate. But Correa was banned from running by a controversial court ruling. The current president, Lenin Moreno, has assumed extraordinary powers over the judiciary and has increasingly resorted to authoritarianism to retain power.

 In office, Correa cut extreme poverty by 47%, while doubling social spending. “He was able to do this,” according to one analyst, “by defaulting on odious debt, ignoring mainstream economists’ advice to keep taxes on the wealthy low and increasing the government’s share of the country’s oil revenues from 13% to 87% — much to the chagrin of foreign energy corporations.”

Moreno, who succeeded him in 2017, promised to continue this approach. Once in power, however, Moreno stunned Ecuador and the world by carrying out a dramatic U-turn. He cut spending, reversed Correa’s oil policy, opened the country to foreign exploitation, borrowed heavily from the IMF and drew closer to the USA.  

His policies, in particular cutting fuel subsidies, sparked massive nationwide protests in October 2019, the largest demonstrations in over a decade. As Labour Hub noted recently, “After 12 days facing ruthless repression from riot police trained in US urban warfare tactics, the protestors won the solidarity of many people in Quito and succeeded in getting negotiations with the government, leading to the overturning of the decree raising fuel prices. While the indigenous people then set about cleaning up the mess with rags and brooms, the police were forced to carry the coffins of the people they had shot dead. Victory on the economic front came at a high human cost: eight killed, 1,340 injured and the detention of 1,192 civilians.”

By November 2020, Moreno’s approval rate was 7%. Unsurprisingly, he is not running again.

Arauz is promising to reverse Moreno’s spending cuts and end the arrangement with the IMF. One of his campaign promises is to distribute a thousand dollars to about a million families as soon as he takes office, In order to increase the population’s purchasing power.

 To win outright in the first round, he needs at least 40% of the vote and a ten-point margin over the runner up. Otherwise, there will be a second round contest between the top two candidates. Notwithstanding his lead, Arauz has faced considerable bureaucratic harassment from institutions allied to the outgoing president and it is by no means certain that today’s poll will be fully free and fair.

The new president will inherit one of the worst economic crises Ecuador has faced in decades as well as the COVID pandemic.  Some 40,000 people have died of the virus, nearly double that of the US in per capita terms. The government’s agreement with the IMF led to the dismissal of 3,680 public health workers, exacerbating the crisis. Ecuador’s western city of Guayaquil was so overwhelmed that dead bodies were left on the streets.

A wild card in the election is the candidacy of Yaku Pérez, the leader of indigenous party Pachakutik, who is currently third in the opinion polls. Despite its popularity, the party is unrepresented in Ecuador’s National Electoral Council, which makes Pachakutik fearful of electoral fraud. Pérez is critical of the Correa years and is running on a campaign of environmental justice than can move the country away from its extractivist model.

More than 300 parliamentary candidates are also up for election. The National Assembly, made up of a patchwork of parties, has an even lower approval rating than outgoing President Moreno. Nearly 90% of Ecuadorans say they think the country is going in the wrong direction.

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocus. His book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image: Ecuadorian protests, October 9th, 2019. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7PauKTV5Bw. Author: Todo Noticias, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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