Since the end of military dictatorship in 1978, Ecuadorian voters have shown a preference for leftist presidential candidates over conservatives. According to political analyst Santiago Basabe, voters have chosen seven leftist, or center-leftist, candidates in 10 elections.
“This has been true throughout Latin America since the end of the era of the dictatorships,” says Basabe. “In general, the poorer classes of voters have gained increasingly more power and they have displaced much of the authority of the old landed gentry.”
The first president to follow dictatorship in Ecuador, Jaime Roldós, was elected based on promises to reduce the influence of the wealthy ruling class and to install programs to help reduce poverty. He also advocated economic independence from the U.S. and Europe and increasing taxes on natural resources being mined and pumped by foreign countries.
Roldós was assassinated during his first term in office in 1981.
Basebe says that Ecuadorian voters have taken revenge on presidents who ran as leftists then turned right after they were in office. “Lucio Gutiérrez is an example of this. He was elected in 2003 on a leftist platform of protecting and supporting local artisans and helping the poor but soon signed agreements with the International Monetary Fund and began advocating free trade,” he says. “In less than two years, he was forced to flee the country following big public protests.”
Gutiérrez was not the only president to ran afoul of the electorate. Ecuador had seven presidents in a 10-year period until the election of Rafael Correa in 2006, three of them forced from office by angry protests.
Political observer and former cabinet member Jorge Ramoz says that the current presidential campaign defies many of the old political rules. “Although you have candidates from the left and right, the focus has been on the personality of Rafael Correa, who is leaving office, and not so much on the policies the candidates are advocating,” he says. “Correa’s style of governing, which emphasizes larger government, the reduction of personal rights and loud attacks on those who did not agree with him, has forced many leftist groups to support Guillermo Lasso, the conservative.”
Ramoz says that Correa’s governing style is reminiscent of right-wing dictatorships, in some respects. “Putting restrictions on civil society is not leftist policy,” he says. “In some ways, Correa has turned the old left-right political model upside down.”