Facing a sharp turn to the left or right, political observers criticize presidential debates as ‘pointless’

Jan 21, 2021 | 9 comments

Andrés Arauz

At the midway point, Ecuador’s 2021 presidential campaign is being panned by political analysts. In particular, they say that the debates of the last two weekends offered voters little useful information for making a decision on election day, February 7.

“The next president will make a sharp turn to the political right or left and most voters have no idea what this means for them personally,” says political commentator Miguel Macías Cargminiani. “The format of the debates was tightly controlled by the election commission and candidates were responding to pointless questions that produced pointless answers. It is understandable that 25 percent of voters say they are either undecided or will vote for none of the candidates.”

Guillermo Lasso

One of the problems with the debates, says Cargminiani, is that they featured 16 candidates when the election is really a two-man race. “This is about Andrés Arauz and whether we return to the Correiasta model of big government, higher taxes and more spending or if go with Guillermo Lasso and smaller government, tax cuts and reduced regulation,” he says. “Of course, you have to include all the candidates in the debates but this distracts from the real choice facing voters.”

Political scientist professor Rebeca Morla agrees with Cargminiani. “The debates obscured the big story, which is the contrast between Lasso and Arauz. The headlines from the debates were that Lasso refused to shake hands with two of his opponents and that [Giovanny] Andrade may or may not have been drugged with scopolamine,” she says, asking, “Who cares?”

Like almost all observers, Morla says no candidate will receive the 50 percent of the vote necessary to win outright on February 7. “The latest polls show Arauz moving even or ahead of Lasso but all indications are that it will be a close race,” she says. “Although few of the other candidates, except [Yaku] Perez, will get more than two percent, they will take enough of it to force the runoff.”

Morla says Perez, the indigenous candidate from Cuenca, could play a significant role in the election. “It is very doubtful that he will make the runoff but he could play kingmaker as the candidate with the third most support. He is a leftist, like Arauz, but he and most of the indigenous movement hate the Correistas so much they may swing their support to Lasso in a runoff.”

Former government consultant Pablo Pardo agrees that the race is between Lasso and Arauz and will result in a sharp right or left turn in some national policies but he says there is serious doubt about the extent of changes the winning candidate can make. “No one wants to admit it but there is no money to restart the Correista programs that Arauz proposes or to establish the big employment program that Lasso wants,” he says. “Both candidates seem to think there is untapped money out there and this simply isn’t the case. Despite the ideology, I see the next government performing caretaker duties as the economy slowly recovers from the pandemic.”

Another problem for implementing the winning candidate’s plans is the National Assembly. “Neither Lasso or Arauz will have a majority in the Assembly, which will be divided among as many as a dozen political movements and the winner will face huge problems getting legislation passed,” Pardo says. “There will be no super majority like Correa had.”

Both Morla and Cargminiani say the pandemic is getting far too little attention in the campagin. “It is the elephant in the room but all the candidates in the debate seemed to think it would end soon and we’ll go back to normal,” Cargminiani says. “They also don’t admit that it has practically bankrupted the country. We are in a deep, deep economic hole that it will take years to get out of.”