By Sylvan Hardy
According to election analysts, there are two scenarios for the April 11 presidential runoff election.
The first, promoted by most of the news media and election officials, is that Yaku Pérez’s challenge of the February 7 vote count will be thrown out by the Electoral Contentious Tribunal and that voters will choose between Andres Arauz and Guillermo Lasso.
The second, aired on social media and in private meetings, is that the runoff will be suspended and that an interim president will be appointed to serve until new elections can be organized.
A column in Sunday’s El Comercio by Simón Espinosa laid out the plan for the second scenario. In it, he claims that the Arauz campaign has received financial support from leftist ELN guerillas in Colombia, which is illegal under Ecuador law. He also claims that the National Electoral Council acted fraudulently in conducting the elections and should be dismissed. If necessary, he adds, the military and National Police should temporarily take charge of the government until legitimate elections can be held.
“Espinosa’s opinion represents a significant underground effort to disqualify the Arauz candidacy and a possible return to Correismo that has been going on since before the first election,” says Pablo Pardo, a former government minister and campaign consultant. “Most people are unaware of the plan and only heard about it in Espinosa’s article. The charges that Arauz accepted money from the Colombians or that the elections commission did anything fraudulent are unproven and many believe this is an attempted coup d’état. On the other hand, there are other factors in play which could make Espinosa’s proposals a reality.”
According to Pardo, the National Comptroller’s and Attorney General’s demands to investigate the February 7 election results were ignored by the elections council. “The council argued that, under the law, it had the responsibility to continue with the election until the process was concluded, so this matter has not been resolved.”
Among the other factors Pardo mentions is the information of alleged Colombian payments to the Arauz campaign. Colombian prosecutors say they turned over evidence to Ecuador’s attorney general in January. “Earlier this week, Lasso said he also had information of the payments which he sent to the legal office at the Organization of American States,” Pardo says. “We have no idea what this evidence is, of course.”
Even without the attempt to stop the election and eliminate the Arauz candidacy, the status of the runoff election is a mess, Pardo says. “Personally, I do not think the runoff between Arauz and Lasso will be stopped but the timing is terrible.”
The Electoral Contentious Tribunal, which has oversight over the elections council, began a 15-day review of Pérez’s challenge of results from 22,000 voting stations on Tuesday, which means they may not issue a final decision until March 24 although it could come sooner. “This is a big problem since the campaign between Arauz and Lasso officially begins March 16 and the two candidates meet in a debate on March 21,” Pardo says. “What happens if the tribunal ends up awarding second position to Pérez? There could be complete chaos even if Espinosa’s plan to suspend the election doesn’t materialize.”
In addition to the challenge under review by the tribunal, Pérez filed an official complaint of election fraud Wednesday with the Attorney General’s office.
“All of this reminds me of the Chinese proverb about living in interesting times,” says Pardo. “The next few weeks will certainly be interesting.”