CIVICUS discusses the results of the 15 October runoff vote in Ecuador’s presidential election with Ruth Hidalgo, executive director of Participación Ciudadana (Citizen Participation).
Participación Ciudadana is a non-partisan and pluralist civil society organisation (CSO) that works to strengthen democracy in Ecuador.
How did organised crime violence affect the electoral process?
The electoral process that just ended has been marked by political violence: a presidential candidate, a mayor and a prefect were assassinated. There has also been a climate of violence on the streets due to the actions of drug gangs, who extort protection money known as ‘vaccines’ from the public and uses it to finance organised crime groups.
This made the issue of security one of the central topics in the debate between the second round candidates, and one that has generated the highest expectations.
The two candidates’ proposals, however, were broadly similar, although with some differences in tone and characteristics of their own. Both aimed to strengthen the presence of the armed forces as co-executors alongside the police of anti-crime policies.
How do you interpret the triumph of a centre-right alternative?
This was not necessarily an ideological vote. The weakness of political parties in Ecuador means that ideology is losing strength. For some time now, the country has been debating not between right and left but between Correism and anti-Correism: it is the controversial legacy of former president Rafael Correa, in power for a decade between 2007 and 2017, which continues to polarise Ecuadorian society.
The winning candidate, business leader Daniel Noboa, represents at least by his origins a centre-right option. But if he has won, it is because he has managed to capture the votes of a young electorate that is not on either side of the polarisation and has rather opted for a new vision, a young candidate with no political baggage who offers a form of politics that, unlike that of his predecessors, is not confrontational.
What factors worked against the candidacy of Luisa González?
Correa’s candidate, Luisa González, was hurt by the constant presence of Correa during most of the campaign, which ended up overshadowing her candidacy. Although in the end she tried to distance herself from that influence, she did not manage to position herself as a renewed Correist option, which is what she should have conveyed in order to have a chance of winning. She remained stuck to the worn-out and questioned political image of the former president.
I believe that the element of Correa’s legacy that leads to the greatest rejection is his confrontational and threatening way of dealing with those he views as political enemies. This seems to be eliciting more and more discontent and disapproval. While the amount of support González received was not small, this set a ceiling for her that she was unable to break through. This was precisely the reason her opponent was able to prevail.
How has the space for civil society evolved in recent years, and what can be expected under the new government?
Civil society, in my opinion, has recovered its presence and freedom of action after Correa’s time in power, during which it was restricted and in some cases persecuted. Let’s not forget that an important environmental CSO, which confronted the government because of its extractivist policies, was arbitrarily shut down and then legislation was passed to regulate the registration, operations and closure of CSOs at the government’s discretion, with the aim of removing those that bothered the government. Many civil society activists and journalists were criminalised for their work.
The expectation of civil society under the new government is the same as always: to have an enabling environment that allows it to carry out its activities freely. We expect a government that protects and promotes freedom of association.
What should be the priorities of the new president?
It’s worth remembering that these were early elections called to elect President Guillermo Lasso’s successor after he used the ‘cross-death’ mechanism, dissolving congress to prevent it impeaching him, but simultaneously cutting his mandate short. This means Noboa will only serve as president for the rest of Lasso’s term: a mere 18 months, too little time for the many challenges he will face.
The new president takes over a country plagued by insecurity and violence, with a high fiscal deficit, almost zero growth, very high unemployment rates and on top of that, one that is once again experiencing the El Niño climate phenomenon, with warming water currents that produce extreme weather events and record temperatures. These are all issues he will have to prioritise, with public policies aimed at mitigating the most important problems in the areas of the economy, climate change and public security. To do so, he will need to build a strong team and create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation. He will need to demonstrate openness to civil society and seek political agreements that are public, not under the table.
Every election presents an opportunity. As always in a country with so many needs, expectations are high. The main task ahead for the new government is to strengthen Ecuador’s democracy, which will demand an enormous amount of work.
Civic space in Ecuador is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with Participación Ciudadana through its website or Facebook account, subscribe to its YouTube channel and follow @participacionpc on Instagram and @ParticipacionPC and @RhidalgoPC on Twitter.