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Ecuador Elections: 2023 Will Have a Profound Impact on Domestic and Regional Stability

In South America, developments in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia often grab global headlines due to their immense influence, relative prosperity, and dynamics which have an indirect bearing on international stability. However, countries such as Ecuador deserve equal importance given the domino effect of political developments in one South American country on regional stability. Much of Latin America like Africa, experiences profound political changes due to shifts in domestic political spectrums which makes the Ecuadorian elections of 2023 highly relevant.  

What has taken place so far is quite astounding in a country that is witnessing a severe economic meltdown. Political violence including the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who was a trenchant critic of alleged connections between crime and politics. The current president, Guillermo Lasso subsequently announced a state of emergency for 60 days which plunged the country into further uncertainty. Pedro Miones, a member of the leftist Citizen Revolution Party of Rafael Correa was also killed six days before the elections. Activists such as Phil Kelly attribute violence in the country to Ecuador’s subservience to the United States’ neo-liberal order with the immense influence of cartels contributing to its demise as a failed state. 

Yet after weeks of chaos, the presidential vote now stands between socialist and left-wing lawyer, Luisa Gonzalez and center to center-right businessman, Daniel Noboa with a run-off election in October 2023. With 85% of the votes considered, Gonzalez, a disciple of former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, managed to secure 33% of the vote by campaigning on the revival of social development programs for the poor and downtrodden members of Ecuadorian society. Noboa on the other hand, hails from the corporate elite and is the scion of prominent businessman Alvaro Noboa. He managed to stack up an impressive 24% of the vote bank which is considered a surprise by election observers. 

A run-off means that Ecuador could fall on either side of the political spectrum which could have considerable repercussions on domestic stability. It is important to note that the run-off decider comes amid Ecuadorians voting in a historic referendum to halt the development of oil wells in the Yasuni National Park which is part of the Amazon Rainforest. The rainforest itself is not new to exploitation as it weathered considerable damage from brazen deforestation under the watch of the Jair Bolsonaro government in Brazil. Voters opted for safeguarding the biosphere by a margin of nearly 20% with more than 90% of the ballots counted. Furthermore, more than 58% were in favor as compared to 41% based on the Ecuadorian National Electoral Commission. 

These results which took place in the first round of presidential elections are a clear repudiation of hyper-capitalism which has damaged Ecuador’s economy and environment from within. It came at a time when climate change from the predominantly industrial world wreaks havoc on global ecosystems with Ecuador becoming one of the first countries in the world to set limits on resource extraction through a democratic vote. Additionally, in a second referendum, the citizens of Quito opted for blocking gold mining in the sensitive highlands of Choco Andino by an impressive margin of 68%. The binding referendum bans oil drilling in the Oil Block 43 project which is located in the eastern edge of the Yasuni National Park which according to economists, could result in greater austerity measures for the cash-strapped country. 

While those vouching for fossil fuel extraction continue to cry foul over the referendum, the interesting element about the Ecuadorian elections will be the final outcome. The neck-to-neck race clearly means that pro-capitalism, neoliberal Daniel Noboa remains in contention. His resonance among the disenchanted segments of Ecuadorian society comes amid the country being shaken by high crime, unemployment, drug-related violence, and pervasive corruption. For his rival Gonzalez however, the challenge is to retain her lead and project her Citizen Revolution Movement as a panacea for Ecuador’s multifaceted predicament instead of being perceived as a party that will retain its status quo. Championing the cause of leftism alone, will not result in meaningful change. 

Gonzalez’s blunders would translate into a major victory for Noboa. The platform of his National Democratic Action Party is to ensure that economic liberalism thrives with promises of opportunities for youth employment, and job creation, and tall claims of reviving the flailing economy. While he is behind the race, any lapse on the part of the CRM works to the NDAP’s advantage. Noboa has appealed to the youth and disenfranchised voters who are disillusioned by the political status quo. His talk tough approach to tackling crime which has plagued Ecuador is considered by many to be the antidote for a country that has witnessed drug traffickers vying for a spot to export cocaine from its shores. Yet despite the existential threat of Ecuador descending towards populism, the oil referendums demonstrate that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing for Noboa despite his new, populist appeal. 

For the continent of South America however, a leftist government in Ecuador would mirror prior developments in Colombia which witnessed its first left-wing president, Gustavo Petro coming to power. The ‘ Pink Tide’ which is a rejection of neoliberalism in favor of left-leaning and socially progressive governments has been a defining feature of the continent with Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia witnessing the rise of regimes that stand against the multimillion-dollar American capitalist order which has deprived respective societies of a respectable standard of living. A turn to the right would be an anomaly for South America which both the continent and Ecuador cannot afford.