What can a new president accomplish? Not much, say experts who worry El Niño is being ignored

Sep 25, 2023 | 0 comments

Ecuador’s next president will not have enough time in office to effectively confront criminal gangs or improve the economy, the top concerns of voters, experts say. In addition, the winner of the October 15 runoff election could face the devastating impact of the developing El Niño weather system, which could be the most intense in decades.

“It is very difficult to imagine the new president accomplishing anything significant in 17 or 18 months in office,” says political commentator Jorge Martinez. “As a matter of fact, the president will really have only about 10 months to push an agenda before the 2025 election campaign begins. This is almost a prescription for failure.”

“It’s clear that, whether it’s Luisa [González] or [Daniel] Noboa, who wins the presidency, they will want to run for re-election by 2025,” said Juan Emilio Vasconez, director of Núcleo Ecuador. “Given the slow process of the political system and the huge problems the country faces, it is hard to imagine much being accomplished before the next election.”

He adds: “The 2025 campaign begins five months before the election and, typically, most legislative action is suspended during the campaign.”

According to Martinez, neither candidate is paying much attention to El Niño. “If this is as bad as predicted, it could dominate the next presidency to the extent that attention to violence, the economy and other issues will be abandoned. All eyes will be on the disaster and the government will put all its attention on remediation and funding reconstruction.”

Although both candidates say they will use reserves from the Central Bank to address budget shortfalls, an El Niño would require it. “El Niño would be the kind of emergency that would require use of bank funds whereas their use for general budgetary purpose is currently illegal,” Vásconez. “To use those reserves would require an agreement of both the president and National Assembly, since the law would need to change.”

Vásconez says the use of Central Fund reserves to fund the budget could put Ecuador’s use of the U.S. dollar in jeopardy. “González says she would do this and Noboa says he might, but such an action would send Ecuador’s international financial risk rating through the roof. The honest approach is to overhaul the country’s inadequate taxation system to produce more funding but, of course, this is politically dangerous.”

Ecuavision panelist Gabriella Guerrero agrees that the short term of Cross Death presidency will make it difficult to confront crime and unemployment, but says popular referendums are one tool a new president might use to make changes. Both candidates say they will call a referendum.

It is unclear what González would propose in a referendum, Guerrero says. “Two months ago, she said it would focus on calling for a constituent assembly for the purpose of writing a new constitution,” says Guerrero. “One of her goals, she said, was throwing out the results of the 2018 referendum that prohibited former president Rafael Correa from running again for president. Of course, she also wants to annul his criminal conviction so he can return to Ecuador.”

It now seems less likely González would call such a referendum, according to Guerrero. “The Correistas have seen the polling numbers and understand this would be unpopular with voters, since a new constitution and returning Correa to Ecuador are very low priorities for most voters.”

Noboa would have an easier time passing a referendum, Guerrero says. “He has proposed questions to bolster law enforcement in the fight against the drug cartels, and this would be popular.”

According to Martinez, El Niño may be the defining event of the next presidency. “This is the elephant in the room and it may make all the other plans irrelevant.”

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