On April 11, the small South American nation of Ecuador – home to the Galapagos Islands and one of the oldest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere – is preparing to hold a second presidential ballot between a grizzled member of the the country’s financial elite, Guillermo Lasso, at 36 – Andrés Arauz, a one-year-old US-trained progressive economist.
Arauz won the first round of the election with a 13 point lead over Lasso, and recent polls suggest he could win the second round by a landslide. Yet a busy electoral process, foreign interference and an avalanche of fake news threaten to derail Arauz’s candidacy and put the run-off election at risk.
That Arauz won the first round by a wide margin is hardly surprising. While still in his twenties, the young economist played an important role in the development and execution of popular government programs under the administration of Rafael Correa (2007-17), who oversaw a period of social advancement. dramatic. Under Correa, poverty was reduced by 38 percent, extreme poverty by 47 percent, and inequality by nearly 10 percent (measured by the Gini coefficient).
Correa’s confrontational style and numerous clashes with owners of large media companies and private banks have earned her powerful enemies and a constant stream of negative media coverage, but does not appear to dampen her popularity. He was re-elected twice in massive landslides. In his last election, in 2013, he won by a margin of almost 35 points against the runner-up, who happened to be Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker.
Now it looks like history will repeat itself, with Arauz widely expected to beat Lasso at the polls. After four years of austerity and repression of popular movements under President Lenín Moreno, the majority of Ecuadorians seem eager to support a return to progressive governance. Additionally, Arauz has a less confrontational political approach than Correa and has openly contacted indigenous groups and those who voted for the rival left-wing Social Democratic Party. His plan to build an inclusive national coalition to fight climate change, poverty and social exclusion seems to have resonated with a large part of the population.
But dark clouds are gathering during the elections in Ecuador. A major Ecuadorian newspaper recently published a call for the military to intervene to prevent the victory of a “Correista”, and some prominent public figures have echoed the calls. This is particularly troubling in a country that has suffered numerous military coups, and in a region where military involvement in politics is making a comeback (see, for example, the role of the Bolivian military in the withdrawal of ‘Evo Morales in 2019, and the current involvement of the Brazilian military in the government of Jair Bolsonaro).
Tensions are also mounting with neighboring Colombia. A week before the first round of elections on February 7, the Colombian weekly Semana – which has close ties to the country’s conservative government – claimed that Arauz’s campaign had received $ 80,000 from the ELN, an armed group. which operates largely in western Colombia. Unverified claims of this kind directed at left-wing candidates frequently emerge ahead of Latin American elections; Rafael Correa faced similar unfounded allegations regarding the Colombian FARC armed group during his first presidential election in 2006.
As was the case 14 years ago, Ecuadorian media devoted extensive coverage to these allegations, despite the lack of supporting evidence and the implausible story of how the armed group’s “gift” would have been coordinated (at a conference which, it turned out, took place entirely online). Shortly after the publication of Semana’s best-selling article, Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa – a close ally of President Ivan Duque and former President Álvaro Uribe (recently convicted of fraud and corruption) – carried out a highly publicized trip to Ecuador to deliver a set of digital documents. files containing alleged communications from the ELN to its Ecuadorian counterpart, Diana Salazar, who said she would investigate. In response, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and prosecutors expressed concern that the actions of the two attorneys general could be politically motivated and said that public prosecutors should not interfere. in electoral processes.
But the greatest threat to the Ecuadorian elections may lie in the electoral institutions themselves. The National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Electoral Tribunal have both made decisions that suggest their members may have political ulterior motives. Despite his status as a candidate representing the country’s most popular political movement, these bodies repeatedly blocked Arauz’s path to the ballot, forcing him to jump so many obstacles that he failed to register. as a presidential candidate only at the last possible minute. During the first round, the CNE presented baffling conflicting messages regarding the results and some political actors took advantage of the confusion to promote allegations of electoral fraud, although no evidence emerged to support this.
The Organization of American States (OAS) – which sent an election observation mission to Ecuador – criticized outside entities for taking measures that could interfere with the electoral process, but also noted that members of the The CNE had issued “contradictory” and “confusing” statements which created uncertainty among the voting public. Sadly, the reputation of the OAS was tarnished after promoting unsubstantiated fraud allegations in Bolivia’s 2019 elections. Although the OAS mission in Ecuador appears to have followed the first round in a balanced way, many wonder if the mission will maintain its impartiality in the second round, which presents high stakes. There are fears that she is influenced by the political agenda of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, as happened in Bolivia.
The world must pay close attention to Ecuador over the coming weeks, and in particular during the April 11 elections, to ensure that no criminal acts, whether internal or external, disrupt the election. or deflect the will of Ecuadorian voters. A smooth, transparent and democratic political transition is in everyone’s interest, both inside and outside Ecuador.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.