Ecuador - Noboa wins. Now what?
The conventional wisdom is that Noboa is in a losing situation with a short presidential term. How could that be wrong?
As expected, Daniel Noboa won the election 52-48. But even before he could give his victory speech, there was a growing conventional wisdom that President-elect Noboa’s positive moment will be a short-lived one.
Noboa’s victory is at least partially due to an anti-Correa sentiment instead of being a mandate for his specific policies. Being anti-Correa doesn’t give him much political capital to act.
The new president faces a divided Congress full of mostly political opponents, some of which will attempt to sink him from the very first day in office.
Public opinion isn’t particularly united and popular protests have held back previous presidents.
Recent anti-mining referenda place public opinion and the law directly against one of Ecuador’s leading drivers for economic growth.
The security situation has deteriorated to a crisis level and it’s not clear any president would have the resources to fight the violent gangs. The political assassinations that occurred during the campaign signal a politicization of violence that will likely hit Noboa’s term even harder than Lasso’s.
Speaking of resources…. Ecuador still has serious fiscal issues. The government can’t spend more on social programs or security. Taking out more debt in the current environment will be ugly. And politics means any attempt to raise taxes or cut fuel subsidies is going to be blocked.
This is going to be a short 18 month term in office, giving the president little time to make progress. It’s a sprint to the next election campaign.
Anti-incumbent environment, El Niño weather patterns, global conflict, high food, fuel and fertilizer prices, etc. You’ve heard it all from me before. It’s not easy to be a president anywhere right now.
I think the above is probably correct. But it’s good to write out because it allows us to think through the assumptions and consider what scenarios or conditions could deliver a successful term in office for Noboa. What would it look like for Noboa to break the conventional wisdom? Here are five ways it could happen.
Noboa surprisingly delivers political unity. Ecuador is not a hopelessly divided country, even though it sometimes appears that way at its worst moments. Noboa will get a honeymoon where his approval rating will get a bump and he can get something through the Congress with whatever political capital this election gave him. If he can turn his victory into political capital and then show the country wants part of his agenda, he could break the polarization narrative at least temporarily (Lasso did it for a few months).
His political opponents could self-destruct. Luisa Gonzalez received almost 48% of the vote. That is a strong turnout for Correa’s candidate and points to continued strength for his political movement. The second place results should make Gonzalez the front runner for the 2025 election if Noboa stumbles or simply doesn’t have time to succeed. However, many viewed the election this year as winnable by Correa’s side and the loss by Gonzalez may actually demonstrate that she was a weak candidate who Correa may not want to run again. Everything in the opposition political movement is dependent on Correa’s whims and he could decide he wants someone different next time around. That could lead to a bitter fight among Noboa’s opponents that keeps them away from targeting the president.
Geopolitics could play to Noboa’s favor. Noboa could be helped out financially by the IMF, CAF or others as nobody wants Ecuador to crash and harm the region’s finances. He may also figure out how to play the US vs China narrative to obtain resources from those looking to gain influence in Ecuador.
Security gains. I’m not a fan of the Bukele model, but the Salvadoran president’s current success in terms of reducing homicides and getting public credit for that reduction demonstrates that short term security gains are possible. If Noboa sees sudden security improvement, through whatever means, he’ll be popular.
The shortened term may play to Noboa’s strengths. It’s easier to run a permanent campaign when you only have to do it for 18 months. Noboa demonstrated himself to be a strong enough campaigner that maybe he just needs to keep it up for the first 100 days and then four more 100 day runs after that. Many people are worried that a year and a half isn’t long enough to make progress, but maybe it’s short enough to keep the current momentum going.