In 2017, Ecuador will elect a new president and vice-president and every seat (137) in the National Assembly is up for reelection. While current president Rafael Correa (Alianza Pais party) initially seemed interested in seeking a third term (he took office in 2007) he has since announced that he will not seek reelection nor push through the constitutional change that would remove presidential term limits. Though Correa has made recent statements indicating that he may still seek reelection many discount his intentions and say that he is trying to avoid a lame duck presidency. With his current popularity hovering around 30 percent (down from a high of 81 percent when he was first elected), he would not want to jeopardize his legacy by losing an election.
President Correa’s popularity decline could be correlated with the global fall in oil prices, from $115 per barrel in June 2014 to less than $35 in February of 2016. While not as petro-reliant as neighboring Venezuela, Ecuador does rely on oil revenues to fund generous social programs; petroleum remains the nation’s main export product. Though the country has made strides in healthcare and education under Correa, Ecuador has not diversified its exports away from commodities which created and deepened the current recession.
The country has already started to take some austerity measures. For example, many public servants, who were hired during a hiring spree by President Correa when he doubled the public sector, have lost their jobs. The IMF predicts that Ecuador’s GDP will contract by 4.5 percent in 2016 and 4.3 percent in 2017 and that unemployment will grow, indicating that more austerity measures will be necessary.
The unsteady economic climate however has created a political opening. While Correa has dominated politics in Ecuador for almost a decade, his administration will end allowing a new generation of politicians to seek Ecuador’s highest office. The first round of voting for president will take place on February 19, 2017. If a candidate receives equal to or more than 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote and more than 10 percent more than the next candidate, then that candidate becomes the president. However, if no candidate receives the required percentage of the vote, then the two candidates who received the highest percentages of the vote will proceed to the next round, called the ballotage.
Currently, there are over a dozen “pre-candidates” running for president in Ecuador. Because politicians are allowed to file until November 18, it is expected that there will be even more candidates when voters go to the polls. Within the large group currently running, a few candidates have risen to the top.
Lenin Moreno, who served as Vice President under President Correa from 2007-2013 is running on the Alianza Pais ticket, and is currently leading in the polls with 44 percent. Moreno is more popular than Correa and has tried to distance himself from Correa’s policies. For example, he has highlighted his work as the UN Special Envoy for Disabilities, a position which he still holds. Moreno is paraplegic and was nominated to the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities in Ecuador. Jorge Glas, Correa’s current vice president, is also a pre-candidate to the presidency, however, his polling has been negligible and he is not perceived as a leading candidate.
The center-right candidates are far below Moreno in the polls. The leading candidates are Cynthia Viteri, of the Social Christian party with 16 percent, and Guillermo Lasso, of the Creating Opportunities (CREO) party with 14 percent. Both Viteri and Lasso are from the countries largest city Guayaquil. Viteri is in the National Assembly and Lasso is a banker. Viteri and Lasso’s competing candidacies show how divided the opposition and center-right is in Ecuador because the candidates profiles are quite similar. Both are business friendly and running on platforms that aim to jumpstart the economy. All of the other pre-candidates are polling at less than 4 percent.
Looking at current polls, it appears that President Correa’s party (Alianza Pais) will maintain power, but the Ecuadoran election is over seven months away and during that time many things could change. Whoever becomes the next president will have to work to diversify Ecuador’s economy and reduce the nation’s reliance on petroleum to stimulate an economic recovery, regardless of party affiliation. The only things that seem certain are that the next president will face many obstacles and that political change will occur because the era of “Correaismo” is over.