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12 Apr, 2021 10:41

Banker candidate scores surprise win in Ecuador presidential election amid massive ballot-spoiling campaign

Banker candidate scores surprise win in Ecuador presidential election amid massive ballot-spoiling campaign

An attempted comeback by Ecuadorian leftists ended in a disappointing defeat after their presidential candidate lost to an IMF-friendly career banker.

Guillermo Lasso’s third attempt to become the president of Ecuador was a success on Sunday. During the first round in February, he finished 13 percentage points behind frontrunner Andres Arauz, and barely beat third-place candidate Yaku Perez Guartambel to earn the right to run against Arauz in a run-off election. On Sunday, Lasso managed to turn the tables on Arauz, defeating him by almost 5%.

Once the outcome became clear in the evening, Arauz, a protege of former President Rafael Correa, conceded defeat in a speech to supporters. Lasso thanked his opponent and called for national unity.

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The two candidates offered voters radically different ways of dealing with the economic hardships that Ecuador has experienced in recent years, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The outgoing president, Lenin Moreno, didn’t run this time. His popularity dropped to single digits amid criticism that his benefits-slashing neoliberal policies and underwhelming response to the pandemic took a heavy toll on the poor.

Lasso, a career banker, promised to offset the economic damage done under Moreno by doing a better job in attracting foreign investment and creating jobs in a more open economy, as well as heavily investing in agriculture.

Whether he can do this remains to be seen. In 1999, he had a short stint as ‘Super Minister’ of the Economy under the government of Jorge Jamil Mahuad. That time was marked by significant economic turmoil and forced Ecuador to adopt the US dollar as its national currency, gaining stability in exchange for weakening the central bank’s ability to conduct monetary policy.

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Arauz offered a return to the times of his former boss, President Correa, whose decade in power brought forth a number of successful social programs to reduce poverty and otherwise help the poor.

Arauz’s plan to alleviate the Covid-19 economic slowdown was to distribute $1,000 checks to a million poor families. He also wanted to overhaul a $6.5 billion loan that the Moreno government took from the International Monetary Fund. Lasso pledged not to disavow the financial agreement.

Lasso’s surprise win came amid a massive protest campaign by the third-place candidate, Yaku Perez. A self-styled indigenous eco-activist and socialist, he was nevertheless highly critical of Correa and his preferred candidate. After the narrow defeat in the first round, he claimed that his spot in the run-off election was stolen from him through voter fraud. He called on supporters to protest this by spoiling ballots, and was apparently quite successful in his campaign.

According to the National Electoral Council data, 1.7 million ballots were nullified. The country has a mandatory universal voting system and roughly 13 million registered voters, of which 10 million fulfilled their civic duty on Sunday.

Critics call Perez a spoiler candidate, propped up to torpedo Arauz’s candidacy by splitting the vote of the left. Notably, he endorsed Lasso for president in 2017, when the banker was running against Moreno, the incumbent leader of Ecuador. Moreno himself was a Correa-backed candidate at the time and was expected to govern as a leftist, but made a U-turn after taking power.

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