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Fragmented political landscape means lots of presidential candidates and a divided Assembly

By Liam Higgins

If Ecuador politics seem confused now, experts say, they could become absolutely chaotic after the next election.

Jaime Nebot

“It’s really a mess now but I’m afraid things will get much worse,” says Marcel Merizalde, a Quito political analyst and former labor minister. “With the addition of so many political parties, we could easily see more than a dozen presidential candidates in the election and a new National Assembly that will be mired in gridlock.”

At last count, Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) had certified 283 parties and has another 89 applications to consider. “Traditionally we have seen more than a 100 political organizations going into elections but never this many,” says Merizalde. “This is an indication of how divided the country is and how difficult it will be to govern in the coming years.

The CNE announced last week that the next national election will February 28, 2021.

Guillermo Lasso

Merizalde says that the coming months may provide a preview of the confusion that will follow the elections, suggesting that very little will be accomplished in the National Assembly due to the split in the coaltion that supported many of President Lenin Moreno’s proposals. “When CREO [Creating Opportunities] announced it will no longer support Aliaza Pais and Moreno, it was essentially the death knell for Moreno’s agenda for the next 12 months. I suggest that nothing important will happen before the election and probably not much afterward either,” he says.

Santiago Basabe, dean of the political studies at the Universidad Latinoamericana in Quito calls it a “fools’ game” to predict the presidential election. “In Ecuador politics, a year can be an eternity so there is a great deal to be determined. As of today, we have two strong center-right candidates in Guillermo Lasso and Jaime Nebot and dozens of center-leftist and leftist parties jockeying for position. Nebot, who has not officially announced his candidacy but will soon, is attempting to move toward the center but it is doubtful this will change many votes.”

Candidates supporting former president Rafael Correa will run under the Fuerza Compromiso Social banner.

Basabe says it is “very possible” that Rafael Correa’s followers, running under the banner of the Fuerza Compromiso Social party, will make it to a runoff in the presidential race. “We don’t know yet who the candidate will be but the current thinking is that the Correistas will command 15 to 20 percent of the vote and will represent the leftists against either Lasso or Nebot,” he says, adding that it appears likely that Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner will be the Alianza Pais candidate but will collect less than 10 percent of the vote.

Says Basabe: “Didn’t I just say only fools will make any prognostications this early in the game?”

Under Ecuador election rules, a presidential candidate must win 40 percent of the vote and have a 10 percent advantage over the nearest competitor to win outright. Otherwise, the election goes to a run-off of the top two candidates.

Merizalde agrees with Basabe but says that Pachakutik, the indigenous party, could provide a challenge to the Correistas. “Traditionally, they have not received more than three or four percent of the vote in national elections but, because of the October protests, they may be better positioned this time.”

Both Merizalde and Basabe say the next National Assembly may be hopelessly fragmented. “No matter who is president, he will have a very difficult time governing due to the make up of the Assembly. I don’t see any way a new president will hold anything close to a majority.”