Marked by uncertainty, today’s election will set Ecuador on a new course

Feb 19, 2017

As Ecuadorians head to the polls today, one question looms large: Will presidential candidate Lenin Moreno capture the 40% of the vote needed to avoid a run-off?

Lenín Moreno

Political analysts admit they don’t know the answer, pointing to the unreliability of Ecuadorian polls and the fact that a large percentage of voters say they are undecided. “It will be a nail biter,” says journalist Ramiro Crespo, chairman of Quito-based Analytica Investments.

Moreno, of the leftist Alianza País party created by Correa, is challenged by conservatives Guillermo Lasso and Cyntha Viteri, one of whom will face him in an April 2 run-off if he fails to reach the 40% mark. Averages of the most recent polls show Moreno with 33% to 34% of support, but many of the 20% who say they are undecided are expected to vote for the former vice president.

Guillermo Lasso

The election is also attracting international interest as foreign journalists and economists wait to see if Ecuador follows the recent Latin American election trend of replacing leftist presidents with conservatives. A Moreno victory will signal that the so-called “pink tide” in the region has not receded entirely.

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Although Moreno has seen his poll numbers hurt by news of government bribery scandals in recent weeks, falling by two to three percent, support for Lasso and Viteri has not grown appreciably as a result. Moreno, who was polling 40% in September, has also been dogged by wide-spread dissatisfaction with Correa’s economic policies and a poor economy. In a recent Cedatos-Gallup poll, almost 70% of respondents said Ecuador was headed in the wrong direction.

Cynthia Viteri

No matter who wins the presidency, analysts say that big changes are in store for Ecuador. “There will be major changes, even if Moreno wins, and bigger ones if he doesn’t,” says University of San Francisco-Quito history professor and election watcher Fernando Ruiz. “Moreno was not Correa’s first choice to be his replacement and the two have very different approaches on such as issues as business regulation and freedom of the press.”

Ruiz adds: “The biggest change with Moreno would in style. He’s always disliked Correa’s aggressive approach to governance and has said so publicly. His background is one of consensus building and respect for his opponents.”

Ruiz says a Lasso or Viteri victory in a run-off, would mean a sharp reduction of regulation and taxes. “Look at what’s happened in Argentina and now in Peru,” he says. “On the other hand, it appears likely that the National Assembly will remain under the control of Alianza País, so significant changes will be hard-fought and come slowly.”

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