Lasso triumphs in Ecuador; Peru prepares for a left-right showdown


Illustration Credit: Arcabuz, El Comercio

Elections held in two Andean nations this past weekend garnered surprising results for both sides of the political spectrum. In Ecuador, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso prevailed over former President Rafael Correa’s would-be successor Andrés Arauz, in a runoff victory that dealt a temporary, albeit significant, blow to hopes of a regional resurgence of the Pink Tide-descendant left. The election of Lasso represents a clear repudiation of Correa’s legacy and continued influence over the country, and potentially ushers in a new era of Ecuadorean engagement with the global economy. Meanwhile, in Peru, Sunday’s first-round presidential election yielded another surprise, with leftist candidate Pedro Castillo finishing first in the crowded field of eighteen candidates, ahead of the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori. The second-round runoff, scheduled for June 6, will see Peruvians elect their fifth president in five years.
Before the election, polls had never placed Castillo—a primary school teacher and militant trade unionist from Cajamarca, who finished with slightly more than 19 percent of the vote—among the top five most popular candidates. Nevertheless, his enormous popularity in rural highland regions of central and southern Peru, where polling is notoriously unreliable, enabled him to obtain nearly 2.7 million votes, some 800,000 more than his closest rival. Castillo is a member of the Partido Político Nacional Perú Libre, or Free Peru party, which supports a strong state role in the economy; additionally, he has vowed to rewrite Peru’s constitution, intending to limit the influence of business elites and crack down on political corruption. In his victory speech, given in his home village of Tacabamba, Castillo promised that if elected, he would inaugurate a new paradigm in Peruvian politics, in which rural areas would no longer be forced to play second fiddle to the interests of Lima, the country’s hub of economic, political, and cultural life. Castillo said, “We’re often told that only political scientists, constitutionalists, erudite politicians, those with grand degrees can govern a country. They’ve had enough time.”
Fujimori, of the right-wing Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party, advanced to the second round for the third time in her political career, having previously lost to Ollanta Humala in 2011 and to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, by the slimmest of margins, in 2016. Fujimori, who received over 13 percent of the first-round vote, has been imprisoned three times in the past on charges of money laundering, obstruction of justice, and illegal receipt of campaign contributions. Fujimori has publicly criticized COVID-19 lockdowns, promising to lift all such restrictions if elected, despite Peru suffering some of the worst excess mortality statistics in the world; she has also campaigned on promises to enact hardline anti-crime and anti-corruption laws, pardon her father, and revive some of his trademark ‘Fujinomics’ free-market policies. Further post-election developments demonstrate the extent of partisan fragmentation, and popular discontent with the political status quo, in Peru. On Tuesday, Rafael López Aliaga—the socially-conservative businessman who finished a close third in the first-round election, less than two percentage points behind Fujimori—endorsed Castillo, claiming that the two shared the same “pro-life and pro-family” values, and that Castillo had given a political voice to “the anguish of the provinces against Lima.”
Meanwhile, in Ecuador, Lasso secured victory by a margin of less than five percent over Arauz, Correa’s political protégé. Much of Lasso’s future success will depend on his relationship with the Indigenous Pachakutik party—led by former presidential candidate Yaku Peréz, who refused to endorse either Arauz or Lasso, and urged his supporters to cast null protest ballots on Sunday—which emerged as the second largest party in Ecuador’s National Congress after a surprisingly strong performance in legislative elections held in February. In an effort to woo voters who had supported Peréz in the first round, Lasso had promised to strengthen and expand environmental protections and prioritize the economic advancement of Ecuador’s 1.2 million Indigenous people; nevertheless, nearly 17 percent of Ecuadorean voters heeded Peréz’s call to spoil their ballots, a historically high proportion.
The Ecuadorean economy reacted immediately to Lasso’s victory. Ecuadorean bonds reached highs not seen in months, signaling international investors’ faith in Lasso’s ability to facilitate economic growth. So far, Lasso has publicly set a goal of eliminating Ecuador’s budgetary deficit in four years without raising taxes and said that he is open to courting private investment in order to increase the country’s crude oil production, even in ecologically sensitive regions of the Ecuadorean Amazon. Lasso also announced his intention to seek free trade agreements with the United States and China, and promised to honor a USD $6.5 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund that Arauz had vowed to disregard.

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