Resounding local election defeat for Ecuadoran govt could spell trouble

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The results of Ecuador's local elections and referendum on Sunday were not good for President Guillermo Lasso's government, with strong support for the opposition possibly meaning that an early general election could be around the corner.

The public voted for mayors, prefects and other local authorities on February 5, with most of the results in the major cities going the way of candidates who back former president Rafael Correa.

The vote also included eight referendum questions on government-promoted amendments to the national constitution, based on what the Lasso administration billed as 'promoting security', 'strengthening democracy' and 'protecting the environment', but they were largely rejected by the electorate.

Given the gains made by the opposition, observers believe that the chances of early presidential and legislative elections have increased significantly.

According to the latest official voting data from the national electoral council (CNE), the mayorship of capital Quito is thought to have been won by Pabel Muñoz, while the new prefect of Pichincha province (home to Quito) would be Paola Pabón, both of whom belong to Correa's citizen revolution party.

In Guayas province on the southwest coast, one of the most important economic centers of the country, the prefect will be Marcela Aguiñaga, president of the citizen revolution party, while the mayor of provincial capital Guayaquil, Ecuador's biggest city, will be Aquiles Alvarez, also a member of the party.

These results are a turnaround in that province, as the right-wing social Christian party has been in control of Guayas for the last 30 years.

In statements to local press, Aguiñaga said that her party had won at least 10 mayorships in the province, including Guayaquil.

In Cuenca, another important province, citizen revolution party candidate Juan Cristóbal Lloret looks almost certain to have won, pipping Marcelo Cabrera, a former public works minister in Lasso's government.

“Now we will see a very tough offensive by Correa supporters against the government. They will want to get Lasso out at all costs, as they have tried in the past, but now, with a much weaker president politically. We will see a major political crisis,” the president of local consultancy Grupo Spurrier, Walter Spurrier, told BNamericas.

Lasso was hoping that a win on the referendum questions would offer him some political respite and ease the mounting pressure he finds himself under, especially in the legislature, from opponents led by Correa and the indigenous movement.

“This is the worst scenario for the government,” Sebastián Hurtado, president of consultancy Prófitas, told BNamericas. "Losing all or most of the questions in the referendum is a dramatic sign of the rejection of the government, since they were designed to be won and were a referendum on Lasso's management," he added.

Given the political shift, analysts believe that the risk of instability in the country has increased substantially and it is possible that the executive branch or legislature will want to call for the so-called ‘cross death’, which is a measure included in the constitution to allow early presidential and legislative elections.

If the executive branch does that, Lasso can dissolve the national assembly and continue as president, ruling by decree until new elections are held.

Meanwhile, if the assembly calls for the "cross death", it can remove the president with a two-thirds majority. That would mean that the vice president, Alfredo Borrero, would remain in charge until the fresh elections.

Despite the fact that Lasso has spoken about this possibility on some occasions in the past, in practice he is thought to be reluctant to use the measure, but observers think that he will still do so if he believes that the assembly is planning to remove him.

As the political landscape becomes more divisive, fears are growing that the nation's economy will be affected.

The country's indigenous movement, another important opponent of Lasso, was openly campaigning to reject the government referendum questions and has announced that it is stepping up anti-mining action. Analysts believe that the local election and referendum results will galvanize these groups into feeling that their opposition is legitimate and well-supported, and there could be outbreaks of violent protests against the government.

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