Election takeaways: Confusion, fragmentation, surprise, the strength of the Correistas and what Pedro Palacios means for Cuenca

Mar 26, 2019

Winners of Sunday’s mayoral elections in Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca, from left to right, Cynthia Viteri, Jorge Yunda and Pedro Palacios

By Sylvan Hardy

The full significance of Sunday’s election results depend on who you ask but it’s fair to say that the political spinmeisters have their work cut out for them.

Following the election, almost everyone agrees that Ecuador politics are a mess and that predicting the future is treacherous business. The surprise winners in several key races serve as warnings to the political establishment that it is not safe.

The results also suggest that changes are needed to the election system itself. Two of the surprise mayoral winners, in Quito and Cuenca, polled only 21 percent and 28 percent of the vote, respectively, and will be forced to form coalitions in fragmented municipal councils to fulfill their campaign promises.

The fragmentation is the result of a bewildering array of political parties and movements which some say number 250, many of them formed strictly around local issues. Unofficial election results show that the 8,000 local election winners wear more than 100 political labels.

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Most commentators, from both the right and the left, agree that the country should move to a runoff system, such as it uses in presidential elections.

The election also proves that the Correista movement is alive and well, commanding at least 20 percent of national support. Based on early election counts, some commentators pronounced former president Rafael Correa’s Citizens Revolution dead but the full results proved them wrong.

The Correistas had a particularly strong showing in Quito, coming close to electing a majority to the city council. The followers of the former president may not be able to put together a national majority but they will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2021 presidential and National Assembly elections.

On the right, Cynthia Viteri posted a solid victory in the Guayaquil mayor’s race, polling 53 percent. Her Social Christian party won dozens of mayorships and hundreds of council seats in smaller towns and cities, positioning her mentor and current Guayaquil mayor, Jaime Nebot, for a 2021 presidential run.

The other center-right party, CREO, headed by former and future presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, had a disappointing Sunday.

More significant but not unexpected, was the lackluster showing of President Lenin Moreno’s Alianza Pais, which only managed to hold on to 24 mayorships, most of them through alliances with other parities.

In Cuenca, the first impressions of mayor-elect Pedro Palacio range from positive to glowing. Although the shock of his victory over political veterans Marcelo Cabrera and Paul Carrasco lingers — as late as Friday, Palacio’s campaign manager said on talk radio that his candidate was in third place — many agree that a fresh face is precisely what Cuenca needs.

Although the Palacio has provided few details of his plans, he says he is a firm supporter of the tram, of major concern to many Cuencanos. He says, however, that he may not follow incumbent Cabrera’s schedule for putting the train into service, suggesting that the current test runs have more to do with politics than the system’s safety.

Opinions about Yaku Perez, the upset winner in the Azuay prefect race, are more guarded. Even without considering his politics, which seem more anti-establishment than ideological, Perez has a credibility problem with some of his past statements and actions. Although there is no doubt that he opposes mining in the province, it is less clear how he will govern once he joins the establishment.

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