South American Insights: In electing Lasso, Ecuadorians opt for new vision of nation

Ecuadorean banker Guillermo Lasso and his wife Maria de Lourdes Alcivar react after Lasso wins the presidential runoff vote, in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Guillermo Lasso, a right-of-center ex-banker, declared victory in his third try at the presidential election on Sunday, showing Ecuadorians have opted for a new vision of the nation, political analysts and observers said on Monday.

This new vision turns the page on nearly a decade and a half of “correismo,” the progressive governing style of former President Rafael Correa, which has dominated the political landscape in the country for around 14 years.

With over 97 percent of the ballots counted, Lasso declared victory after garnering 52.51 percent of the valid votes in Sunday’s presidential runoff, defeating rival Andres Arauz, a left-leaning economist whose candidacy was endorsed by Correa. Arauz, who trailed with 47.49 percent of the votes, promptly conceded defeat.

According to political scientist Arianna Tanca, Lasso won thanks to his “strategic” campaign before the runoff, where “he placed much more emphasis on agendas that are outside the debate between correismo and anti-correismo,” which has polarized Ecuador in recent years.

“Lasso succeeded in supporting this narrative of … a more democratic Ecuador, where tolerance and diversity are respected,” Tanca said.

Political scientist and university professor Arturo Moscoso agreed, saying Lasso’s “message of change got through” to the electorate.

“What you can see is that the majority of citizens have opted for a more democratic vision of politics,” said Moscoso.

Lasso’s victory handed the Alianza PAIS (PAIS Alliance) party founded by Correa in 2006 its first presidential election defeat.

Lasso, 65, lost his 2013 presidential bid to Correa by a wide margin. In 2017, he lost by a small margin to current President Lenin Moreno, who was Correa’s then vice president, but led a more conservative government once in office.

While Lasso won with a solid lead over Arauz, experts recommend he make forging consensus between the different political and social sectors a key part of his agenda, especially since correismo holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly (Congress).

Lasso has to be open to negotiating with everyone to make agreements and pass the legislations needed to run the country, political scientist Santiago Basabe told Xinhua.

“No one can have any doubt that the followers of former President Rafael Correa constitute the largest political force in the country. To refuse to debate with them would be to start the government in a hostile setting that could degenerate into an unnecessary escalation of political and social conflict,” Basabe said.

A professor and researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Basabe said Lasso should take advantage of the democratic gesture of correismo candidate Arauz, who quickly acknowledged his defeat and invited the new government to dialogue.

“There is an opportunity for Guillermo Lasso to take firm steps to reduce tension and polarization in the country: in short, a lot of room for political negotiation and an open mind to accept and tackle differences,” said Basabe.

Observers say Lasso faces challenges on multiple fronts: the economy, the political scenario, healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to rising unemployment and poverty.

“It will take profound leadership from the new president. The first battle was won, but the most important one is coming: governing,” said Maria-Paz Jervis, a political scientist and dean of the Faculty of Social and Legal Sciences at SEK International University.

With that in mind, she said Lasso should “consolidate the openness he showed during the campaign to people who think differently, open himself up to other possibilities and resolve the major issues that concern citizens.”

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