Following a decade in power, Rafael Correa’s decision to stand down set up a hotly contested Ecuadorian presidential election between former vice president Lenin Moreno, of Correa’s ruling Alianza Pais party, and former Guayas governor Guillermo Lasso, of the Movimiento CREO. Lasso enjoyed the support of a broad coalition, including Cynthia Viteri of the Partido Social Cristiano, and Paco Moncayo of the Izquierda Democratica, and was widely expected to ride a wave of Correa-fatigue to the presidency.
Leading pollster Cedatos released an exit poll showing Lasso besting Moreno by a 53% to 47% margin. The ruling party’s prospects looked grim. Initial returns showed Lasso with a modest lead. Then the National Electoral Council’s website “crashed”. According to official statements, it went down for 18 minutes. When the system came back online, Moreno had mysteriously turned a two point deficit into a two point margin of victory.
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PanAm Post English editor David Unsworth recently spoke with Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal. O’Grady was one of few American journalists to write about the election, subsequent allegations of electoral fraud, and the perilous path for the future of democracy in Ecuador.
She notes, “Rafael Correa was carrying a lot of baggage, because during his ten years in power, Ecuador lost any semblance of transparency…and there are very strong allegations of a lot of corruption during his time in power, so he had a lot riding on the importance of his candidate winning that night. When Cedatos reported that exit polls showed Guillermo Lasso well ahead of Mr. Correa’s candidate Lenin Moreno, that was really troubling for the government.”
When the National Electoral Council’s website mysteriously “crashed” and Moreno suddenly took the lead, “of course the whole country felt that this was a highly suspicious occurrence” observes O’Grady.
In order to thwart the opposition narrative of electoral fraud, O’Grady suggest Correa “sparked the idea that he would go after Cedatos, accuse them of manipulating information, accuse them of creating an impression among the public that Lasso could win, and was winning, that really explains why he had his police raid the company in the weeks following the election, arrested two individuals, confiscated the computers.”
There have also been numerous instances of suspicious vote tallies and improperly counted ballots, reported by Movimiento CREO poll watchers. But, as O’Grady notes, “We’re probably not going to know what happened, we’re never going to know that, unless years from now somebody who was on the inside desides to write a tell all…but what we can say with 100% certainty is that the process was not transparent…there were many examples of fraud…the only way to sort out the problem would have been to have a full recount.”
A partial recount was conducted in Ecuador, but the opposition claimed it was woefully inadequate. The Correa regime has never been particularly favorable to transparency, nor has it been reticent to use state institutions to target or silence opposition or dissent.
She notes that during the last election cycle, an EU electoral mission criticized the Correa administration for excessive use of state resources in his reelection campaign. The EU was not invited back this election cycle.
Looking forward, O’Grady is less than optimistic on the Andean nation’s political and economic prospects.
“Ecuador needs to get its house in order, and it’s in pretty bad shape.”
She also envisions Correa’s continued influence, noting, “I would be very skeptical that Rafael Correa would not be involved in telling Lenin Moreno what he’s going to be doing.”
Yet Rafael Correa has left his successor with some serious problems.
O’Grady notes, “Rafael Correa really piled on the debt,” and created an unfavorable climate for business and investment.
“People will not go to Ecuador to invest” and [the Ecuadorian people] “are not going to be looking very good in the way that people feel about their pocketbooks,” which will present Moreno with severe public policy challenges.
O’Grady advises Moreno to break with his predecessor: “Fundamentally Ecuador has to restore the rule of law…lose its reputation as attacking the private sector, the business sector, the press…it has to restore its reputation as a place where capital would want to go and stay…basically, you are not going to get development without capital inflows in a place like Ecuador…Moreno would have to come out and say, look this is yesterday, and today, going forward, Ecuador is going to be a place where capital is welcome and well-treated.”
While the international press has often looked favorably upon Correa’s massive spending on healthcare, education, and infrastructure, they have rarely covered the massive debt that Ecuador has incurred under his watch. O’Grady adds, “Unless the country starts growing faster you’re not going to be able to pay off the debt.”
As Ecuador goes forward as a nation deeply divided, still smarting from a “highly dubious election” it remains to be seen whether Lenin Moreno will closely adhere to the policies of his mentor Rafael Correa, or tack a new course. Different institutions have issued divergent economic forecasts for the nation: with the International Monetary Fund projecting contraction of -2.7% in 2017, while the far more optimistic (and state-controlled) Ecuadorian Central Bank projects growth of 1.42%.