February 8, 2021

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ECUADOR: Perez or Lasso – that is the question

BY Nicholas Watson

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( 3 mins)

With 97.85% of votes cast in the 7 February presidential election now counted, Andres Arauz of the leftist Union for Hope (UNES) coalition has won 32.16% of the vote. Yaku Perez of Pachakutik, the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), is second with 19.86%, just ahead of Guillermo Lasso of the center-right Creating Opportunities (CREO) party, who is on 19.59%. In a surprisingly strong fourth place is Xavier Hervas of the Democratic Left (ID) party on 16.01%. Below we examine key takeaways, signposts, and scenarios arising from yesterday’s vote.

The results mean that – as forecast – there will be a run-off vote on 11 April. Andres Arauz, who was handpicked to run by former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), will obviously be one of the candidates. The main question now is who Arauz will face: Perez or Lasso. It may take days to establish with certainty which of the two has come second since both will demand a manual recount given how close the results are – around 21,000 votes currently separate them.

Put another way, the April run-off will be a polarized battle between Correismo (represented by Arauz) and anti-Correismo. The corollary issue is whether anti-Correismo as represented by the combined votes of Perez, Lasso, and Hervas can really band together to keep Arauz from winning. Polls underestimated the Perez and Hervas vote (though we previously suggested that the latter could put in a surprise showing in this election). The combined Perez-Hervas vote (which totals more than Arauz’s first-round tally) certainly points to a sizeable body of voters that is simultaneously progressive/left-leaning and anti-Correa.

The challenge is that even if they are bound by their fear and loathing of a return to Correismo, Perez, Lasso, and Hervas make for highly unusual political bedfellows. There is more affinity between voters of Perez and Hervas than there is between either of those groups with Lasso’s voters. It is difficult to see the Social Christian Party (PSC), which backed Lasso, or other conservatives, in a functioning alliance with Pachakutik even if Lasso has already said he would support Perez in a run-off (perhaps not believing such a scenario would materialize). In immediate terms, a tense and/or protracted recount could stretch the chances of a Perez-Lasso tie-up to breaking point before it has even progressed beyond embryo stage.

Hervas’s lack of political baggage makes him a more reliable electoral ally for either Lasso or Perez. However, the alliance probably needs to be three-legged if it is to be successful at keeping Arauz out. Even if a Perez-Lasso-Hervas alliance can be hammered out, and losses (e.g. the PSC) kept to a minimum, such an alliance would be unwieldy in government, entail complex legislative trade-offs, and risk policy inconsistency – all the while facing a still-powerful Correista opposition and intense political polarization.

The challenge for Arauz is to attract Pachakutik and ID voters to his side. If Lasso emerges as the second-placed candidate, that task would be easier for Arauz because some will balk at voting for Lasso and could swallow their reservations over Correa’s influence. For that reason, Arauz may try to put some distance between his campaign and the former president over the coming weeks. If this strategy succeeds and Arauz ends up being elected, any distance from Correa would quickly evaporate.

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