Lasso’s Hot rise to Power leads Ecuador to the Right

  • Lasso’s win as Ecuador’s president ends two decades of socialism.
  • Left-wing candidate Arauz signifies the loosening grip of socialism.
  • Election brings a wave of right-wing presidencies within Latin America
Source: Reuters

Why is Lasso’s temperature Hot right now?

Answer: Lasso’s win over left-wing opposition, Arauz, breaks the wave of socialism in Ecuador.

After almost two decades of left-wing populism in Ecuador, the country has seen the election of a right-wing candidate as president, marking an already ongoing shift in the region. Guillermo Lasso, a 65-year-old ex-banker from the centre-right political party Creando Oportunidades (CREO) managed to take the lead over left-wing opponent Andres Arauz in April 11th in the country’s second round of presidential elections.

The election consisted of three frontrunners: left-wing Arauz hand-picked by long-standing Correa, the first indigenous candidate, Yaku Perez, and right-wing Lasso. After barely making it past Perez in the first round, he came back with a surprise victory of 52.5% over Correist candidate Arauz.

Lasso assumed office on May 24th, inheriting a country with rampant socio-economic issues. Ecuador currently faces one of the highest costs of the pandemic on the continent which is matched with its subpar vaccination campaign. The country also sits at an above average debt-to-GDP ratio of 65.33% and a climbing unemployment rate. At his inauguration, he came out to pledge his commitment towards salvaging the stifling Ecuadorian economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and previous incumbent Moreno’s, failures by applying his portfolio of liberal economic policies.

The main points of Lasso’s agenda include a zero debt plan aimed at eradicating the high debt-to-GDP ratio within four years and a reconstruction of the oil industry by enabling the state to share the risks of this industry with private companies. Matched with this was a signed $6.5 billion dollar relief package from the IMF and the continuation of unpopular austerity measures. 

Since taking office on May 24th, he has been trying to match his liberal and free-market economic agenda with galvanizing more support in the majority opposition National Assembly where his party only holds 12 seats. For him, focusing on a successful vaccination campaign and obtaining more support in the legislature are necessary to implement his economic agenda. 

Who is changing Lasso’s level?

Answer: Lasso’s rise to the presidency is explained by the divided left-wing in Ecuador, but is challenged by a left dominated legislature.

Lasso’s temperature moved from cold to hot as he managed to solidify the Ecuadorian presidency after two unsuccessful attempts against Rafael Correa and Lenin Moreno in 2013 and 2017. Lasso rose to the political realm in 2012 in a country dominated by left wing politics and socialist president Rafael Correa. As a right wing candidate, his first two unsuccessful campaigns reflected the “left wing wave” of predominantly left wing presidencies that was sweeping the continent during this time. 

Lasso’s success in the polls in the 2021 elections was largely attributed to the weakening left wing due to the polarization between President Correa and Vice President Moreno. As a result, Moreno moved away from Correa and took the party, Alianza Pais, to a new direction that would dominate the left arena in the 2017 elections, finalizing a divisive split in the left camp of Ecuador. 

In the 2021 elections, with two left wing parties running, the traditional Correist party and the first indigenous party, votes became further divided along the left. In addition to this division, calls for a null vote by a large fraction of Perez’s party following allegations of electoral fraud left Lasso’s centre-right party as the best alternative. Voters that no longer felt represented by this unconsolidated left camp found refuge in Lasso’s party. Therefore, he was able to capture a substantial amount of defect votes from the left.

Although able to win the popular vote in the election, Lasso’s party has very little presence in the legislature dominated by left-wing parties which could implicate his efficacy as president. His pledge to address the current economic crisis through revamping the oil industry is likely to be contested by the majority left-wing Congress due to their previous vocal opposition.

This means that Lasso could find himself paralyzed at the start of his presidency, implicating his position to negotiate support on an issue to issue basis. Therefore, he will need to garner support within this left wing base of the legislature by turning to the Pachakutik and Democratic Left parties. Lasso is currently looking to do so through his 100 day vaccination plan and respect for the integrity of the Yasuni national park by stopping mining activities. 

What is driving Lasso?

Answer: Lasso is driven by his economic ideology of free-market policies to end the decade long Correist revolution.

As a result of Correa’s “citizen revolution” aimed at the redistribution of wealth through socialist policies, Lasso emerged as a right-wing conservative candidate celebrating free-market economics. However, he represents more of a rejection of Correa’s left than an embodiment of a right-wing candidate. His staunch criticism of years of government spending and corruption under Correa drove the ex-banker and businessman to run for office in 2013. Lasso aspires to see the implementation of his economic policies as a means to end the grip of Correa on the country. Strongly against Correa’s means of governance, Lasso represents the “change coalition” in the country alongside ally Partido Social Cristiano (PSC).

Lasso is driven by his proposed policies of generating wealth such as liberalizing the economy, cutting back on taxes and cutting government spending. Lasso looks to make the economy more competitive and leverage the large oil industry that was previously in shackles under Correa. 

Therefore, Lasso’s drive is fuelled by his economic agenda to rid the country of what he deems an irresponsible economic environment under previous incumbents Correa and Moreno. By continuing with austerity measures, accepting a $6.5 billion relief package from the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) while not increasing taxes, Lasso is showing his commitment to ending socialist policies put in place by Correa.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Lasso’s win may signify the emergence of a right-wing wave in Latin America.

Lasso’s win in the 2021 elections was a hit for socialism and the left-wing within Ecuador and Latin America. There are now six Latin American countries that have successfully seen the election of a right-wing candidate. This may indicate a changing shift in the mentality of not only the Ecuadorian population but also across the continent. It shows that voters may not necessarily be as driven by left-wing populist rhetoric as they once were. 

The so-called “red conservative wave” has recently emerged in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay. Although some of these movements rose from populist campaigns and promises, like Bolsonaro in Brazil, Lasso differentiated himself as he did not rely on such tactics. Part of this shift can be attributed to the economic failure of left-wing policies. 

As an oil-rich country, the internal policies of Ecuador impact economic and investment decisions within Ecuador and its foreign direct investment. With a shift to the right under Lasso, we are likely to see increased cooperation with big trading partners, increased investment opportunities and closer alliance with Latin American countries as Lasso is vying to join the Alianza Pacifico

The 2021 elections mark a shift in the role of Ecuador as a symbolic guide for the left in Latin America. The surprise win of right-wing candidate Lasso could indicate the re-establishment of the red conservative wave in Latin America, begging the question of whether more Latin American countries will follow a transformation to the right and how long this shift may last. The win signifies that the population had become disillusioned with 21st-century socialism and populist rhetoric and are instead favouring a new direction politically.

Arielle Combrinck

Research & Analysis Member