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Ecuador - Municipal elections and referendum vote deal blows to Lasso
Greater instability and early elections are more likely due to the loss.
Ecuador’s Sunday elections and referendum vote produced significant losses for President Guillermo Lasso. The loss makes greater instability and the probability of early elections more likely in the country.
Candidates backed by former president Rafael Correa won mayoral races in Quito and Guayaquil, the country’s two most populous cities. The eight questions on the popular referendum promoted by Lasso are all set to fail according to the most recent vote count.
Despite his low approval ratings, Lasso was willing to take a risk calling for a referendum because he hoped that public discontent with the legislature would have a larger impact on voters than their disapproval of him. The fact that voters did not eagerly vote to reduce the power of the legislature and political parties nor approve harder-line security policies following a year of record violence demonstrates just how unhappy with Lasso the Ecuadorian public has become.
Rather than creating pathways to circumvent obstructionism from the opposition, calling the referendum simply cemented Lasso’s dwindling legitimacy. The president only barely survived an impeachment vote already, and the Ecuadorian opposition will certainly feel emboldened by the results of Sunday’s vote. Lasso struggled to negotiate with opposition and indigenous during the June 2022 protests, and his loss of credibility from Sunday’s vote will grant these groups more leverage in any future conflict.
The results were generally driven by the same anti-incumbency trends seen around the region. Nobody should read these results as a pro-Correa wave. Former President Correa’s candidates won mayoral elections because of divided fields in an anti-incumbent environment. And the two candidates who won in Quito and Guayaquil aren’t from the corrupt inner circle that defined Correa’s government. They are relatively new faces. In both cases, pragmatism at the municipal level is a likely outcome.
This election loss means Ecuador is very likely to see another round of protests in the coming months by indigenous activists and anti-Lasso leftists who will be emboldened to take on the government. There isn’t a clear spark for those protests at the moment, but any changes in fuel prices or other economic subsidies would be enough reason for the protesters to return.
And it’s more than 50% likely (though not certain) in the coming 12 months that Lasso uses the “muerte cruzada” option of calling early presidential and legislative elections. It’s the last big political tool he has remaining and his opponents are less likely to fear new elections given their strong showing during the municipal elections this Sunday. The only reason for Lasso to hesitate on new elections is the likelihood his opponents would win it. However, if he’s a lame duck facing a likely new impeachment vote by the legislature (and they will attempt it again), the president might as well use the one weapon he has remaining.