Millionaire Ex-Bankers Surprise Win In Ecuador

As leader of a nation marred by deep political divisions and devastated by the coronavirus epidemic, GuillermoLasso faces monumental challenges.

He is a former banker, a millionaire, a member of the Catholic order Opus Dei, and now, the president of Ecuador. The third time was the charm for center-right Guillermo Lasso, who ran two prior presidential campaigns.

His success in the runoff with socialist Andrés Arauz, who prevailed in the first round by large margins, was a surprise to many.  “I’m not even sure that the electorate thought he was the right man for the job,” says John Polga-Hecimovich, a political scientist at the US Naval Academy and an associate researcher at Flacso-Ecuador. “Instead, I believe voters saw him as the least bad of the two options they were given in the runoff. Lasso barely made it through to the second round, squeezing into second place with 19.74% of the vote against 19.39% for the leftist, indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez.”

Pérez, although a leftist, urged supporters to nullify their votes rather than support Arauz, in part due to lingering resentment over actions of former president Rafael Correa, Arauz’ mentor.

By all accounts, winning will turn out to have been the easiest part of the job. As leader of a nation marred by deep political divisions and devastated by the coronavirus epidemic, Lasso faces monumental challenges.

The tepid support he enjoys among Ecuadorians—Lasso actually earned about 180,000 fewer votes in this year’s winning bid than in his losing 2017 run—will make his work much harder. Lasso is a classic pro-business politician, says Polga-Hecimovich: “He pledged to cut individual and corporate taxes, seek free-trade deals abroad, and adhere to at least part of the IMF debt negotiation and austerity measures already underway, all while attempting to pull Ecuador out of the pandemic.”

Furthermore, Lasso’s party, CREO, enjoys only 12 seats in the 137-member National Assembly, and the rightist bloc is the smallest it has been in decades. “Without making substantial policy concessions,” Polga-Hecimovich warns, “Lasso may start to face opposition not only in the legislature but on the streets.”