On April 2nd in second-round elections Ecuadorians elected a new president. More than 10 million people showed up to the ballot box to exercise their democratic right in what turned out to be a highly-contested event.
The stakes were high for the two contending parties. For the governing Alianza País, winning the election was essential for the consolidation of power in the absence of its founder and jefe máximo, Rafael Correa. For the opposition, the election represented a real chance of ousting the party from power that has governed since 2007 and implementing a new political and economic model for Ecuador.
As many expected, the electoral process was not free of controversy. Despite allegations of fraud and amid massive protests across the country, the National Electoral Commission (or CNE in its Spanish acronym) announced Lenin Moreno, Rafael Correa’s candidate, as a winner of the election with 51.15% of the votes. According to the CNE’s official results, Guillermo Lasso, the opposition candidate representing the Creo-Suma alliance, rallied 48.85% of the vote.
The opposition candidate and his supporters didn’t take the news well. Thousands took to the street to object the outcome of the election and decry allegations of fraud. Infuriated Ecuadorians camped outside the CNE in Quito and other cities around the country, demanding transparency and pressuring the CNE to reveal any attempt to commit fraud.
While the ballots were being counted, the CNE’s website inexplicably went offline. The opposition has argued that before the website went dark, Guillermo Lasso was in the lead with 53.8% of the votes reported. When the website came back online, Lenin Moreno was the winner.
Mr. Lasso has challenged the official results and demanded a manual recount of all votes. On April 12 he submitted to the CNE documentation that allegedly supports his claims of electoral fraud. In what was imaginably a strategy to fend off rising tensions and distract, Alianza País raised its own allegations of electoral fraud, accusing Guillermo Lasso and the Creo-Suma alliance of buying votes.
Late last Thursday the CNE announced that it would recount all ballots contested by both parties. Nearly 1.3 million votes, approximately 10% of the total vote, is being recounted. However, the recount of the votes seems to be a mere formality. As Juan Pablo Pozo, president of the CNE, stated last week, the recount aims to re-establish the “tranquility of the country.” Most likely the recount will confirm the original election results, leaving Guillermo Lasso and the Creo-Suma alliance with little room to maneuver.
Fortunately in these situations there are credible election observation teams. The Organization of American States (OAS), which had been invited to observe the elections, stated that its mission of electoral observers found no discrepancies between the tallies and the official results. The mission, led by the former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, deployed a total of 77 observers in 19 provinces across the country. According to the OAS statement, the mission visited 480 randomly selected voting centers from the opening of the polling stations until the counting of the ballots. After the election the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro reaffirmed the authority and credibility of Ecuador’s CNE, adding that the CNE would respect the legitimate and official results of the electoral process.
Leaders from the region soon joined the OAS in recognizing the official results of the election. Mauricio Macri from Argentina, Evo Morales from Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet from Chile, Juan Manuel Santos from Colombia, Horacio Cartés from Paraguay, Pedro Pablo Kuczynzky from Peru, Juan Carlos Varela from Panama, Salvador Sánchez from El Salvador, and Nicolas Maduro from Venezuela, congratulated Moreno for his victory—an implicit endorsement of the election results. In their own way, these leaders all pledged to work alongside Ecuador and its new leader to further strengthen bilateral relations.
With little more than half of the votes in his favor, the president elect Moreno has a difficult road ahead. The election has increased division amongst Ecuadorians. He won the election, but by doing so with such a small margin, his claim on power is fragile. Moreno will face an opposition that is increasingly gaining support from Ecuadorians—as 48.85% of the vote suggests.
Fortunately, in a divided country facing a tight election, there were credible election observers on the ground to avoid a potential deadlock or breakdown. The events are a good reminder of the importance of professional, non-partisan election observation. A potential crisis was avoided. Let’s hope other governments that have fallen away from inviting the OAS to observe elections—which we detailed in a recent report—took note.