Reportage. On April 11, in the second round of the presidential elections, Ecuadorians will choose between leftist economist Aráuz and the banker Lasso. Yaku Peréz’s loss in the runoff has angered indigenous communities, who plan to cast null votes.

Two development models face off in Ecuador: Keynesian vs. neoliberal

April 11 is near. There are three weeks left until the Ecuadorian people elect the new president of the Republic. But what is the country’s social and economic climate in this second round? According to some data from the national research institute Cedatos on the state of health of the country, 80% of Ecuadorians say they are discouraged and worried about the future.

To confirm these alarming figures is the sociologist and university professor Francesco Maniglio who, in a short interview, added: “Half of the population of Ecuador lives in poverty, which increases in rural areas where it reaches and exceeds 60%. Informal work has increased and has spread considerably and there is a worrying increase in unemployment which is not only the result of the pandemic, but above all of the austerity and neoliberal policies applied in the last four years of the Moreno government. Economic and social inequalities have returned to the levels of the 1980s and 1990s.”

It is in this worrying scenario that the two candidates for the run-off challenge each other: Andrés Aráuz of the coalition of the progressive left Unes and Guillermo Lasso of the neoliberal right with the support of the coastal right. The dispute in the field is not limited only to the two candidates but to two development models and two different ways of building Ecuadorian society.

Araúz is a young economist already with ministerial experience who proposes to replant a neo-keynesian model of development in terms of economic policies that is characterized by a strong state intervention in the economy, an increase in public spending on education and health, a strengthening of the public sector, tax reforms for the distribution of resources from the top down and the project for the transformation of the production matrix with the aim of defending the national product. In other words, the victory of Aráuz would guarantee the smooth return of the Revolución Ciudadana program of the former president Rafael Correa, which was interrupted with the government of Lenín Moreno.

Lasso is an old-time banker with important positions in two past governments (Mahuad and Gutiérrez) who wants to continue the neoliberal development model implemented in the last four years. The leader of the right proposes a strong reduction in public spending and taxes for the productive sector, tax concessions for foreign capital investing in the country, but also more ease of exit of the same capital going abroad, a plan to strengthen the private sector over the public sector — a prelude to the acceleration of the privatizations Moreno has been promoting since 2018 — and finally the ratification of the free trade agreements.

This electoral dispute, political and paradigmatic, of recent years in Latin America has been re-proposed in every presidential election since the beginning of the twenty-first century and sees the current advantage of the progressivism of the left against the neoliberal right.

These elections in Ecuador also seem to confirm the trend. The first electoral poll in circulation is the one carried out by University of Guayaquil professor Omar Maluk, which gives the left-wing candidate Aráuz an advantage with 58% over the right-wing candidate Lasso, at 41%. The poll by the Clima Social institute gives Araúz a 10-point lead.

Furthermore, there is an important percentage of undecided (12%) while the null ballots would be 15%. This last figure expresses the discontent in the electorate generated by the candidate from the indigenous movement, Yaku Peréz, who announced a campaign for the ideological null vote. From February 7 to 23 in Ecuador there was an interminable recount between Lasso and Yaku to define who would race against Araúz. The banker won with a small gap of 32,115 votes (0.35%), generating anger and frustration in the indigenous communities and a part of civil society that had supported Peréz in the first round.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, March 21, the first presidential debate was held in which, according to Francesco Maniglio, “the two candidates highlighted a difference of proposals in the economic field but communicated mainly to the electorate of the center to win greater consensus. Both have escaped on some important issues, such as security after the rebellion in prisons and the issue of structural racism in the country.”

In the same debate Aráuz showed confidence and mastery on economic issues, unlike the banker who seemed to chase his opponent without seriously scratching him. Only in the final part did Lasso recover some consensus by adopting a repetitive and biting communication strategy, accusing his opponent of being a liar. If the polls are confirmed, Ecuador’s next president will have to regain the confidence and optimism of his compatriots, given the dramatic situation in the country.

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