8 things to know about Ecuador’s elections

Ecuadorians have a major decision on their hands. The nation will go to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to say goodbye to the left in the wake of corruption scandals and a faltering economy.

Photo by: AP (Archive)
Photo by: AP (Archive)

Around 12.8 million people are eligible to vote in the February 19 elections.

It was in 2007 when the leftist leader Rafael Correa became the president of Ecuador.

Despite calls from his supporters, Correa won’t be running for a fourth time.

Ecuadorians are at an economic and political crossroad. They'll go to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to follow Argentina, Brazil and Peru in switching to a conservative government.

Here is what we know at a glance:

1. This might be the last of the "pink tide" – for now

Correa was one of the outspoken leftist revolutionary leaders in Latin America, along with Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Fidel Castro. Together, they formed the “pink tide,” a turn towards left-wing governments in the continent.

Correa oversaw a rise in the fortunes for Ecuador. In 2015, the congress approved a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limits.

2. Correa has left a lasting impact on Ecuador

Since Correa came to power, the size of the country’s economy has nearly doubled to 100 billion dollars.

But last year it shrank by 1.7 percent. Correa says the fall of oil prices and weakening currencies in neighbouring countries was the cause.

Most Ecuadorians think that Correa has done a good job. They credit him with delivering stability to the country that has experienced difficult times – including an economic crisis.

In 2000, Ecuador had to abandon its national currency and adopted the US dollar. (AP Archive)

3. Correa called himself a “21st century socialist”  but he never tried to move the nation's currency away from the US dollar

He was enough of pragmatist to leverage an oil boom and loans from China to fund social welfare schemes and public works that transformed the country.

4. Correa is not on the ballot, but his legacy is

Opinion polls give 63-year-old former Vice President Lenin Moreno a strong lead in the field of eight candidates.

However, he is likely to face a runoff on April 2 against his nearest challenger, Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker.

To avoid a runoff, a candidate needs to win more than half of the votes, or 40 percent with a 10-point lead over his closest rival.

Disparate opposition factions in the country of 17 million people may then unite to support Lasso, giving him an edge over Moreno, analysts said.

"Any party could beat the governing one in the second round, because there is major resistance to and rejection of the government," Paolo Moncagatta, a political scientist at Quito's San Francisco University said.

However, "it is a mistake to underestimate the strength of support for Correa's side," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.

Polls say Moreno is leading the field of eight candidates with support ranging from 28 percent to 32 percent. (AP Archive)

5. Who’s on the ticket?

Moreno is from a left-wing family. He promises more of the same tax-and-spend social policies.

But a corruption case at state oil firm Petroecuador and a Latin America-wide scandal involving Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht have weighed on Moreno.

His running mate, Jorge Glas, the country's vice president and former strategic sectors minister is accused of organising bribes and kickbacks.

"We have to vote for change to fight against corruption," Lasso said at a campaign rally on Wednesday.

Guillermo Lasso, 61, is the presidential candidate of the Creating Opportunities party (CREO). (Reuters)

6. On the campaign trail

Moreno vowed to crack down on corruption, although he did not discuss the Odebrecht or Petroecuador cases.

Meanwhile Lasso pledges to slash taxes, lure foreign investment and create a million jobs.

He also has promised to evict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the country’s embassy in London. Assange is avoiding extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape.

There have been no polls on a hypothetical second round. However, many analysts expect Moreno to be defeated.

The next presidential term starts on May 24 and lasts four years. (AP)

7. A defeat of the left?

A Lasso victory would intensify the return of the right in South America.

Argentina, Brazil and Peru have all shifted away from leftist rule in the past 18 months as the decade-long commodities boom ended.

8. The problems ahead

The new president will face high expectations for economic improvements in the midst of low oil prices, a steep fiscal deficit, and onerous debts to top financier China.

A Moreno administration might continue to rely on Chinese loans, while Lasso is likely to seek help from the IMF or a quick renegotiation of opaque financing deals with China.

TRTWorld and agencies