Ecuador to early vote in a climate of insecurity and fear


By John

In Ecuador, more than 13.4 million voters are expected to vote in the presidential and legislative elections, in a climate of great insecurity, fear and political uncertainty. These are early elections after Conservative President Guillermo Lasso invoked the constitutional clause of “muerte cruzada” (mutual death) in an institutional twist last May and dissolved the opposition-controlled Parliament to avoid the final vote of the ongoing impeachment process against him.
The electoral campaign was particularly violent, marked by the murder in the street on August 9 of the well-known journalist Fernando Villavicencio – in the fight against the corrupt and the mafia – candidate of the Construye party (centre), hit by three bullets in the head. His replacement is his fellow investigative journalist Christian Zurita, 53, who has been wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet 24/7 since his appointment and who in the last few hours has denounced having received death threats. A political crime that has aroused a wave of emotion in the population, distrusted and increasingly distant from the ruling class. In the polls published a few days after the vote, 50% of those entitled were still undecided about the name to choose from the 8 candidates running for president and many do not even know if they will go to the polls.
In Ecuador, the presidency can be won with 40% of the votes in the first round, if more than 10 points separate the first candidate from the second. The latest polls gave the socialist lawyer the favourite Luisa Gonzalez45, a candidate close to the former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), which collects more than a quarter of voting intentions. In second place, in an almost equal position, four others including the deceased Villavicencio, Correa’s sworn enemy, who according to some detractors would be the instigator of the rival’s assassination. The former president, sentenced to eight years in prison for corruption – according to information revealed by Villavicencio – lives in Belgium, but continues to influence Ecuadorian political life. On social media he defends his “citizen revolution” and attacks his opponents-right and left-with the usual vehemence.
At this point the second most accredited candidate is the centrist Zurita, with his deputy Andrea Gonzalez, 36 years old. In third place is the 40-year-old Jan Topic, a former French legionnaire turned successful businessman, often compared to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele. His rhetoric of steadfastness against the mafias, combined with the tragic death of Villavicencio, has allowed him to score points in recent days. Behind the right-wing candidate, Daniel Noboa, who three days ago said he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt while campaigning in the South West. In the eventual second round, the balance of power could change with all the “small” candidates, from the ultra-liberal right to the new left, who will probably have to join forces to hinder Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, several of them have signed an “agreement for security and peace”, in which they ask for “urgent measures” to guarantee the smooth running of the electoral process. Soldiers and police will be stationed throughout the territory for today’s vote, when the polls will be open from 7 to 17 (local time) with the possibility of electronic voting for those residing outside Ecuador. The first results are expected to be published overnight by the electoral authority. The new president will be elected for just over a year, until May 2025, a period corresponding to the theoretical end of Lasso’s mandate. The outgoing conservative president is accused of alleged embezzlement in the management of the public company Flopec (Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana) through contracts signed between 2018 and 2020 with the international group Amazonas Tanker, involving Russian interests. The Ecuadorians will also choose the deputies in Congress, currently dominated by the leftist opposition, who will also have a shortened mandate to reach the end of the current legislature.
In recent years Ecuador, 18 million inhabitants, has been contaminated by cocaine trafficking from neighboring Colombia and Peru, to the point of threatening the stability of institutions. After Villavicencio’s assassination, President Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency to guarantee the holding of elections.