Hemisphere Weekly: Meet the three frontrunners in the Ecuadorean presidential election

Three candidates have emerged as the frontrunners in the presidential race: a young protégé of former President Rafael Correa, a pro-business social conservative, and an Indigenous activist.




Source: Illustration Credit: CARICATURAS DE ARCABUZ, ElComercio.com

Over 13 million Ecuadoreans will go to the polls on Sunday, exercising their civil duty—and constitutional obligation, since voting is mandatory in Ecuador—to elect their new president, choosing from 16 starkly different candidates. As election day nears and indecision runs high, pollsters anticipate high numbers of blank and null votes. However, three candidates have emerged as the frontrunners in the presidential race: a young protégé of former President Rafael Correa, a pro-business social conservative, and an Indigenous activist.

Leading the polls is Andrés Arauz, although the extent of his lead remains somewhat indeterminate––with some sources showing him leading by as much as 13 percent, or by as little as 4 percent. The 35-year-old politician, economist, and technocrat serves as the face of the Union for Hope (Unes), an electoral coalition that includes the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana, the party founded in 2018 by supporters of former President Rafael Correa. Despite his young age, Arauz has already had an extensive career across multiple different sectors of the Ecuadorean government. He served as Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent during Correa’s presidency, also serving briefly as Minister of Culture. Additionally, he has been the general director of banking at the Central Bank of Ecuador, the sub-secretary of the National Secretariat of Planning and Development, and the director of the National Public Procurement Service. Handpicked as a presidential candidate by former President Correa, Arauz has sought to revive Correismo in the electoral arena, aiming to reinstate Correa’s brand of left-populism. He has promised to roll back President Lenín Moreno’s neoliberal economic policies, advocated for capital controls, and is a critic of the International Monetary Fund. One of his signature policy proposals is the ‘Plan 1000 De Una,’ through which he plans to grant USD $1,000 to one million mothers of vulnerable families. Despite his current edge in the polls, Arauz appears unlikely to achieve the 50 percent of votes required to secure a first-round victory.

Second in the polls, and Arauz’s closest rival, is the conservative Guillermo Lasso, a 65-year-old banker and businessman from the Creando Oportunidades (CREO) party, which he founded in 2013 to launch his first presidential bid. The favored candidate of social conservatives and Ecuador’s business community, Lasso is seeking the presidency for the third time, having been resoundingly defeated by Correa in 2013, and losing narrowly to Moreno in 2017. With more than 50 years of experience in the Ecuadorean private and public sectors, Lasso has enjoyed a lucrative career. In 1994, he was named CEO of Banco Guayaquil (one of the country’s largest financial institutions); during his tenure, he founded Banco del Barrio, a grassroots community banking initiative that would eventually become the largest banking project in Latin America.
In 1998, Lasso was appointed as the first governor of Guayas province, subsequently serving as Minister of Economy and Finance and as an itinerant ambassador. Among his main proposals are the creation of one million jobs, the construction of a universal health care system, and the progressive elimination of taxes, which he has deemed to be “regressive.” Additionally, in the final weeks of the campaign, Lasso has pledged, if elected, to raise the monthly minimum wage to USD $500 in the first years of his administration.

The 51-year-old Yaku Pérez, the candidate of the Indigenous political movement Pachakutik, represents the “dark horse” in Sunday’s presidential election. If elected, Pérez, who is ethnically Kañari, would be the country’s first Indigenous president. Pérez, a lawyer and environmental activist, has gained national prominence for his active efforts to defend Ecuador’s natural resources, and in particular the country’s waterways (his self-appointed Kichwa name, Yaku, means “water”) from mining and other extractive industries. In 2013, he was appointed as the president of the Indigenous federation ECUANARI (the Confederación de Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Ecuador), and played a prominent role in the October 2019 anti-austerity protests. He also served as the governor of Azuay province, before resigning to run for president. Pérez claims to represent an alternative to the “authoritarian and corrupt left” represented by Correa, identifying himself as part of the ecological, anti-Correa left.  His electoral platform is centered around a sustainable economic model that emphasizes the protection of the environment and Indigenous rights.

If, on Sunday, no candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the vote (or 40 percent, with at least a 10 percent lead over the second-place candidate), the two leading candidates will compete in a second-round runoff election; projections suggest that Arauz and Lasso will advance to face each other in the second-round, scheduled for April 11.

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