It is unclear if front-runner Lenin Moreno hurt his cause by skipping Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Guayaquil. What is clear, however, is that his closest rivals seemed more intent on attacking each other than the government they hope to replace.
In refusing to attend, Moreno wrote that he disagreed with the debate format as well as its emphasis on financial and tax issues over social issues. He said the debate format would lead to the “lack of civility” witnessed in the recent U.S. presidential campaign.
The debate was highlighted by Christian Democrat Cynthia Viteri’s repeated questioning of Guillermo Lasso’s claim that he will create a million new jobs for Ecuadorians. Viteri focused on Lasso’s management record at Banco Guayaquil, where she said he eliminated more jobs than he created. Lasso is the majority shareholder at Banco Guayaquil.
Lasso responded that the charges were “made up out of thin air” by Viteri and her top supporter, Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot, and that the job losses Viteri cited occurred after he left active bank management. “This is just a smokescreen to cover the fact that my opponent has no plans of her own,” he said.
At one point during the debate, populist candidate “Dalo” Bucaram, son of former President Abdullah Bucaram, told Viteri and Lasso to “end the foolishness” and focus on issues that will help Ecuadorians. “This fight is a waste of time, an ego trip. We need to offer voters programs that will make their lives better.”
Lasso continued to insist that the 14 taxes he will eliminate will provide the stimulus to create jobs and revive the economy, in its second year of recession. Other candidates, including leftist Paco Moncayo and centrist Washington Pesántez, agreed that taxes should be trimmed but said Lasso’s proposal was too radical and would leave essential government services unfunded. “We need good schools, good highways, and good hospitals,” said Moncayo. “You won’t have those if you eliminate most of the tax base.”
Organized by the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, the debate included Viteri, Lasso, Moncayo, Bucaram, Patricio Zuquilanda, and the independent Iván Espinel.
Voters will have another chance to see the candidates on a single stage Sunday, February 5, when the Quito newspaper El Comercio hosts a “candidate dialog.” Moreno, who agreed to the format, said he will attend.
The presidential election is scheduled for Sunday, February 19, with a run-off, if necessary, to follow April 2.