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March 31, 2021

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ECUADOR: Signs of late Lasso rally may not be enough against Arauz

BY Nicholas Watson

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( 5 mins)
  • Andres Arauz remains the marginal favorite ahead of the 11 April presidential run-off vote though the conservative Guillermo Lasso appears to have gained ground.
  • Voter fragmentation and indecision complicate the outlook, as do calls to spoil ballots.
  • The vote pits Lasso’s capacity to overcome voter reticence and build an electoral alliance greater than Correismo against the ability of former president Rafael Correa’s proxy, Andres Arauz, to break Correismo’s ceiling of support.

 


Lasso’s positive streak

At times since the February first-round, it has been difficult to see the path to a Lasso victory. The Creating Opportunities (CREO) party candidate only just scraped into the run-off, while Lasso’s vote count was down by over 800,000 on his 2017 first-round result, leaving him with a mountain to climb by April. In territorial terms, Lasso came top in just six out of Ecuador’s 221 cantonal districts, dwarfed by Arauz’s victory in 104. The February result showed that while there are plenty of voters who dislike or distrust Correismo, the leftist movement led by former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), that does not make them very enthusiastic about Lasso as the alternative; 5.75mn people – 55% of those who voted – opted for candidates other than Lasso or Arauz in the first round.

However, the past few days of the campaign have gone reasonably well for Lasso. The CREO candidate recovered from a shaky start in the 21 March debate to land some punches against his rival and finish as marginal winner of the televised head-to-head. It also recently emerged that Arauz had an employment contract with the Central Bank (BCE) until May 2020, well into the administration of President Lenin Moreno; not only that, but Arauz was awarded a severance indemnity when he left the BCE. The episode is not as damning as some in the Lasso camp make out, but it does show a double standard given that Arauz has criticized Moreno so harshly. Finally, Xavier Hervas of the Democratic Left (ID) party, who finished fourth with 15.6% of the vote in February, said that he would be voting for Lasso on 11 April, even if he emphasized that his decision was personal and did not amount to a party directive.

Electoral math

5.75mn voters opted for candidates other than Arauz and Lasso in the first round. Predicting how these votes shift is more guesstimate than precise calculation. Lasso has won endorsements from six first-round candidates versus only two for Arauz. On paper, Lasso’s six candidates account for close to 2mn votes, while Arauz’s two endorsements were worth just over 300,000 votes back in February. Simply adding these numbers to the two candidates’ February tallies would put Lasso on 3.8mn votes versus 3.3mn for Arauz – a reminder that Correismo must contend with a relatively low ceiling (even as it benefits from a high floor).

However, votes do not transplant as easily as that. Predicting how many of Hervas’s votes will go to Lasso is very difficult; how many Hervas sympathizers will balk at voting for a conservative former banker is the key question. Moreover, to judge from the 2017 election, there could be a small but important increase in turnout from first round to run-off; in 2017, an additional 165,000 voters participated in the run-off vote.

The Perez play

The other – perhaps most significant – variable is how third-place finisher Yaku Perez’s vote moves. Perez has called for his supporters to cast a blank or spoiled ballot in rejection of both Arauz and Lasso, as well as the electoral process, which he alleges was fraudulent. Recall that Perez lost out on a place in the run-off by a razor-thin margin. In the run-off campaign, both Arauz and Lasso have been making a play for Perez’s indigenous and youth vote.

One local pollster, Comunicaliza, which correctly captured Perez’s surprisingly strong February performance but failed to anticipate Hervas’s equally unexpected result, has carried out an analysis of Perez’s vote. This suggests that roughly one third of Perez’s supporters intend to cast a blank ballot, while another approximate third will vote for Lasso; only 16.5% plan to vote for Arauz (another sign of the Correista ceiling). The rest apparently remains undecided.

The final leg of a long campaign

The last few days of the campaign will see the candidates continue their focus on winning over undecided voters. The Cedatos pollster suggests that many of the undecided are younger voters. Arauz may have an edge here given his age (36) and the fact that not all Correismo’s negative baggage may be fully appreciated by younger voters. Regardless of age, voters’ frustration with Moreno-era austerity and the Covid-induced economic crisis could still eclipse concerns over a return to Correa-era corruption, authoritarianism, and political division. Arauz has tapped into the mood with his offer of a USD 1,000 cash giveaway to 1mn households – even as it simultaneously signals how populist short-termism could be on the cusp of a comeback.

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