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Ecuador: Between the Ballot and Desperate Attempts at Privatization. By Marco Terrugi

With less than three weeks to go before the presidential elections in Ecuador, the electoral campaign between Andres Arauz and Guillermo Lasso is in full swing with an advantage in the polls for the former. The current president, Lenin Moreno, meanwhile, seeks to move forward with the privatization of strategic sectors, such as the Central Bank.

Ecuador is on the threshold of an election that, all agree, will be decisive. Voting will take place on April 11 and the two candidates will be:

1.Andres Arauz, of the Union for Hope, who won in the first round on February seventh;

2.Guillermo Lasso, from the CREO party in alliance with the Social Christian Party (PSC).

At present, most polls indicate that Arauz has an advantage over Lasso. The former represents the citizen revolution project, known as correismo, after former president Rafael Correa, who governed between 2007 and 2017, and the latter represents a neoliberal proposal that, during the campaign season, seeks concealment due to the lack of social consensus.

The polls have, in turn, “disparities”, as Jacobo García, a consultant specialized in electoral behavior, explains. “The advantage is relative and diverse according to the study, it can be between three and five points or the most optimistic between 12 and 15 points”.

Studies also indicate that there is “a large percentage of undecided and invalid votes”, he affirms. This presents a complexity of analysis: “we have to see what part of the invalid vote is a firm ideological null vote, while the remaining part is undecided and moving”.

It is then “an open dispute and nothing has been said yet”, analyzes García, a little more than two weeks before the contest, where the debate between Arauz and Lasso has already taken place and where many agree, the performance of the former was successful. In this scenario, each candidate is deploying his strategy to reach the necessary majority that will give him the victory on April 11 to access the presidential palace of Carondelet on May 24.

Arauz and the extension of the vote

The candidate of the Citizen Revolution obtained 32.72% of votes in the first round. His campaign had the central political and media presence of Correa who, persecuted by justice, is out of the country. A central part of the percentage obtained was what was defined as the “hard vote”, that is, the stable voting base of Correa’s supporters.

Now, one of the objectives is to expand. “Arauz has two ways, the first one is to create his own leadership that reaches the segments that are not part of his hard vote, that are reachable, or undecided, through his own discourse and attributes”, analyzes García.

In this search for votes, the candidate must reach the “younger and urban segment”, which, according to the consultant, can be achieved “through the new codes of the social networks, which are more horizontal”.

The other path, objective is what García describes as “taking the election to the terms of its most favorable fracture”, that is to say, to centrally displace the axis of correismo/anti-correismo, formulated by the right, to focus on another path.

“There are several electoral fractures that are shaping the scenario and one of them is a fracture of social classes, today there is a more unequal country, poorer than four years ago, and in addition to that there is a series of scandals such as the VIP vaccination, which allows the installation in the imaginary the issue of privileged versus people, such a fracture favors correismo”.

The VIP vaccination, that is to say, the scandal regarding the irregular vaccination of people linked to political and economic power, for example, was one of the topics exposed by Arauz in the presidential debate on March 22. There, the candidate of the Citizen Revolution presented the list of those who received the VIP vaccination, and his closeness to candidate Lasso, who, faced with the evidence of the accusation, had no answer to offer.

Lasso and the anti-correismo

The CREO-PSC candidate obtained 19.74%, that is, almost 13 points less than Arauz. One of his bets, needs, is also to achieve outside those who voted for him, for which, in the last weeks, he sought to build a strong strategy in the social networks, advised by Jaime Durán Barba, involved together with his brother in the scandal of the VIP vaccines.

“It is the issue of innovating through new tools to reach young targets, less ideologized, there when they enter Tik Tok, the fun, that is what the two candidacies are doing, and in the case of Lasso is even more notorious”, explains García.

Lasso, who was president of the bank of Guayaquil, involved in numerous cases of off-shore accounts, seeks through this policy to build a renewed image of himself, hiding his past and neoliberal project, which represents the continuity of the current government of Lenin Moreno, who has a very low social approval.

Regarding the political cleavage, the objective of Lasso and those who accompany him, is to reunite the different forces around anti-correismo. “The idea is to unite the country and all political forces against correismo and to make it be seen as an excluding, sectarian, isolated force, which is not willing to govern with the rest, which simply seeks to return to its majority and take revenge”.

This strategy has two dimensions. On the one hand, to seek anti-correismo in social terms, through a campaign of accusations against Correa’s governments, such as corruption and the attempt to link Moreno’s policies to Correa.

On the other hand, to appeal to the alliance with other parties around anti-correismo. This possibility, which seemed likely after the first round, suffered several setbacks in the weeks that followed. A principal one is that the third candidate, Yaku Perez, denounced fraud and announced that he will not vote for any candidate and that, together with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, he will appeal to an “ideological null vote”.

As for the fourth candidate, Xavier Hervas, first called to form a front against Arauz, then announced that he would not support any of the candidates, and finally returned again to a rapprochement with Lasso. How many voters will be influenced by the public position of Perez and Hervas? It is one of the questions in these weeks of the campaign.

The last privatizations

Moreno, who won the presidency in 2017 with a progressive proposal, carried out a neoliberal plan. His social approval fell to very low levels due to the economic crisis, the mismanagement of the pandemic and vaccination plans, as well as episodes such as the October 2019 repression against an indigenous, social protest, for which he was accused in recent days of having committed human rights violations.

Moreno is in his last two months of government, with a weak government, three health ministers in less than a month, and the possibility of Arauz winning the presidency. In this context he seeks to advance in new privatizations of strategic areas of the economy, such as the Esmeraldas refinery, and the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE).

Regarding the refinery, the government is seeking the signature of the handover of the company from the State to a private company on April 23, exactly one month before leaving the presidency. This situation was denounced by Arauz, who filed a claim of unconstitutionality before the Supreme Court, which was accepted on March 23, opening a scenario of uncertainty.

Regarding the attempt to privatize the ECB, the executive sent a bill to the National Assembly for the third time to move forward with a plan, which, if successful, would leave the next government with its hands tied in monetary matters.

One of the points of the bill states that “the ECB will not provide direct or indirect financing to the central government, the governing body of public finances”.

Thus, while the presidential campaign receives much of the political attention, Moreno is looking to deepen a neoliberal model widely rejected by society, with profound economic consequences in the future. Lasso, who is part of the banking sector, one of the biggest beneficiaries during the crisis is accused of being part of the project that the current government has carried out, a link that the presidential candidate systematically seeks to deny.

source: International 360

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