What will the outcome of Sunday’s election mean for the future? Not much, most experts say

Feb 3, 2023 | 8 comments

As the pre-election “quiet period” goes into effect ahead of Sunday’s sectional elections, political analysts and commentators are looking for trends that could foretell the outcome of the 2025 presidential and National Assembly election. They admit, however, that making sense of the results will be difficult.

“The problem of coming to political conclusions is the massive number of candidates and the fact that the elections are won by simple plurality,” says analyst and former government minister César Ulloa.

An inmate at the Turi prison in Cuenca casts his votes on Thursday. (El Mercurio)

More than 30,000 candidates will be vying for 5,667 positions on Sunday, ranging from mayors and provincial prefects to seats on rural parish councils. For the record, 221 mayors, 23 prefects, 864 cantonal councilors, 443 provincial councilors, 4,109 parish councilors and seven members of the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control will be elected. In addition, voters will decide eight referendum questions put forward by President Guillermo Lasso.

“Not only do you have a huge number candidates and offices, but you have more than 200 political parties and movements supporting the candidates. It’s a chaotic situation.” says Ulloa.

According to Ulloa and other experts, the most closely watched elections will be in the largest cities and provinces. “The greatest interest will be in Guayaquil and Guayas Province and Quito and Pichincha Province,” says Ulloa. “After that, the results in Azuay, Manabí and Santo Domingo will be watched closely.”

Of particular interest will be the mayor’s races in Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca and Manta. Can Cynthia Viteri win another term as mayor of Guayaquil and maintain Jaime Nebot’s and the Social Christians power base in the city? How will the Correistas perform in the mayor and prefect races in Quito and Pichincha Province and will they be able to maintain their strength in Manabi Province?

In addition, observers will be watching the performance of candidates supported by indigenous parties and movements, including Pachakutik and Coanie. The outcomes of these races could suggest the relative strength of indigenous leaders such as Leonidas Iza of Conaie and the popularity of future protests.

“Although we will get some idea of the political strength of major parties and movements from the results, the fact that races are decided by plurality creates a problem if you are trying to forecast the future,” says Quito historian Carlos Goya. “In 2015, the results played a big role in Rafael Correa’s decision not to seek another term but generally sectional elections don’t have a big impact on the next national election. In 2019, some, mayors and prefects won by as little as 15%, hardly a clear mandate from voters.”

Beyond individual races, the results of the referendum questions will be closely watched as a barometer of support for Lasso and his opponents. The leadership of the Assembly, led by the Correista Union of Hope (UNES) party, is pushing a “no” vote on all questions as a repudiation of Lasso and his policies. If the “no’s” are successful on all or a majority of the questions, it could indicate growing strength for UNES, Ulloa says.

According to University of Cuenca sociology professor Marco Salamea, the referendum will provide an imperfect gauge of public sentiment. “Voters appear to be confused by the questions so it is difficult to see a definitive outcomes,” he said. “There are one or two that seem to enjoy a high level of support, especially those that would extradite drug criminals and reduce the size of the National Assembly, but there is less interest in the others.”

Salamea and Goya say voter apathy seems to be higher in this election than any in recent memory. “One reason for the apathy is that the election results will not have much of an impact on crime, which is overwhelmingly the main issue for voters. They understand that this cannot be seriously addressed until the 2025 presidential and National Assembly election.”

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