The most chaotic and critical year for Ecuador, in the midst of an economic gale and complex management of the health crisis, ends up opening the door to the political future. This Thursday, December 31, the electoral campaign begins to elect the president who will replace Lenín Moreno and who will govern for four years a country cornered by the impact of the coronavirus, by its debts and by fiscal constraints. The electoral race begins full of doubts, challenges and strong tensions between the supporters of former President Rafael Correa and his detractors.
One day before the official start of the 36-day campaign, preparations are still halfway through. There are 16 confirmed lists, while the electoral authorities are immersed in a crossroads of discordant decisions about the participation of Álvaro Noboa. This is the candidate for a candidacy called Social Justice, which emerged in the middle of the pre-campaign – despite having initially resigned in favor of a consensus candidate that would stop the return of Correismo – and his appearance opened an escape valve for that great mass gray of voters who do not want to give their support to Guillermo Lasso, from the conservative CREO-PSC alliance, or Andrés Arauz, the new face sponsored by former President Rafael Correa from Belgium.
The polls, diffuse and contradictory to each other, place Noboa among the favorites, despite the fact that his application is not even approved. He was late to the internal primaries of his political organization and, therefore, the National Electoral Council formally prevented him from running to Carondelet. But the Social Justice movement is raising a legal battle in which the Contentious Electoral Tribunal —which adjudicates appeals or claims before the decisions of the electoral authority— gave it an opportunity. This candidate still has an opportunity to complete the internal appointment procedures extemporaneously and thus enter the presidential contest.
The case reached the Constitutional Court, which rejected a CNE lawsuit against the electoral court due to a conflict of powers and now everything is up in the air. There is even a complaint for electoral violation against four of the five members of the CNE that will be clarified in January, days after the start of the campaign. The only certainty is that the voting date will not be delayed: the first round will be on February 7 and, in the event that no candidate manages to win with sufficient margin, there will be a second round, which will be held on April 11.
Lenín Moreno has ratified, for his part, that he will leave office on May 24, in the act of handover to be held in the National Assembly. Whoever wins the presidential sash will inherit a country that has not corrected fiscal imbalances in the last four years. Former President Rafael Correa ended a decade of government with an economy over-indebted above the constitutional limit, and a budgetary inertia in which expenses were always higher than income, with a gap oscillating between 4,000 and 7,000 million dollars annually: from 4 to 7% of the national GDP. Moreno, Correa’s ally and vice president, soon distanced himself from his predecessor, but in three and a half years he only leaves part of the duties fulfilled. He managed to renegotiate the sovereign debt with his creditors in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, and granted the future president a ball of oxygen by agreeing with the lenders five years of grace in the payment of capital and two years for the interests of a debt of more than 17,000 million dollars. He obtained a cut of 1,500 million and lowered the interest rate that oscillated between 7.7% and 10.7% to an average of 5.3%. The pressing payment schedule for the next 10 years was stretched to meet it between 2023 and 2040.
This management also opened the key to the arrival of fresh resources from the International Monetary Fund. There are 4,000 million dollars in the last semester of a total program of 6,500 million that, as a counterpart, requires Ecuador to apply strong reforms to reverse an annual deficit in two years. Of almost 9,000 million – in an economy that moves around 100,000 million a year – it should remain in a slight surplus of 600. The Moreno government has just five months to complete the changes in tax, labor and fiscal matters, despite having a fragmented Assembly without a guaranteed majority. Otherwise, the economic adjustments will remain in the hands of the next president who, in addition, will have to continue dealing with the ravages of the covid-19 pandemic.