Source: Franklin Jacome / Getty Images / NBC
On Monday, Guillermo Lasso was inaugurated as Ecuador’s 47th president. A center-right former banker, President Lasso promises to break from the legacy of the left-wing Alianza País and its founder, former President Rafael Correa. Yet, given Ecuador’s divided legislature, the new president should prioritize unity as he enters office.
In his inauguration speech, Lasso spoke of an “Ecuador del encuentro” (an Ecuador of encounters), calling on the people of Ecuador to come together and welcome differing perspectives and political leanings. He emphasized equality, environmental protection, and a principle of “leaving no one behind,” all traditional priorities for the center-left. Of course, this might be no more than boilerplate rhetoric for an inauguration address. But, if rhetoric is accompanied with action, Ecuador’s new leader has positioned himself for compromise.
Back in 2007, when Rafael Correa was elected president of Ecuador for the first time, he promised a change of eras. Over the course of his presidency, Correa’s party maintained a majority in the legislature, allowing the president to make sweeping changes to economic policy, foreign relations, and even the country’s constitution. He remained in office until 2017, when his vice president, Lenín Moreno, took office. Moreno departed from many of Correa’s policies. Nevertheless, he was able to leave his own mark on the country’s politics by maintaining a legislative majority.
Unlike Correa and Moreno, President Lasso does not have the benefit of majority party control in the National Assembly, Ecuador’s top legislative power. Thus, the need for consensus and reaching across the aisle will be a crucial component of this new administration.
The assembly’s 137 seats are divided among a multitude of parties reflecting an array of ideological positions. Although Correa’s backers have the largest number of seats (49), it does not possess the 70 seats required for an absolute majority. Notably—and in another first for the country—the second-largest group in the assembly, with 27 seats, is the Indigenous-led Pachakutik party.
The increased representation of Indigenous Peoples’ voices within the Ecuadorean legislature indicates a new age in the country’s politics. Indigenous community leaders were among the most persecuted and vilified during the Correa regime. Even more poignant is the fact that the newly elected president of Ecuador’s legislature, Guadalupe Llori, was herself a victim of Correa’s politically charged persecutions. In 2007, Llori was incarcerated on charges of terrorism and sabotage and publicly denounced by the president for her involvement in protests against oil extraction projects in the province of Francisco de Orellana. Now, Llori has become the first Indigenous woman to preside over the National Assembly.
As Lasso himself remarked during his inauguration, no one would have expected that a former banker and an Indigenous leader from the Amazon would be presiding over the executive and legislative branches of Ecuador’s government.
Lasso’s alliance with the Pachakutik parallels his posture toward journalists, another group that faced persecution under Correa’s rule and will now likely come to the forefront. On his first day in office, Lasso repealed the Communications Law of 2013, colloquially known as the “gag rule,” which had severely curtailed freedom of the press in Ecuador.
Simply put, Lasso’s move toward unity reflects not just his personal style, but also the current political context. Lasso’s politics of compromise provides a glimpse into a more conciliatory future for the country, where freedom of speech and assembly are restored and democratic institutions are governed by effective checks and balances.
Even if Lasso governs with compromise at the forefront, the road ahead is not an easy one. Ecuador’s public debt makes up around 63 percent of the country’s GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the country’s economic woes and has brought light to the country’s sorely deficient health sector, which has been wrought with corruption scandals.
Another crucial issue is the sheer lack of stability in Ecuador’s cabinet appointments. In a region where ministers typically have a two-year tenure, Moreno’s tenure was marked by a near-constant shift in ministers. Within four years, only two out of 24 ministers and secretaries maintained their original appointments. Additionally, Moreno had four different vice presidents, two of whom have been sentenced to jail time for charges ranging from embezzlement and unlawful association to bribery and extortion.
With such heavy rotation, especially in the Health Ministry—which has had six different ministers in the span of four years—internal knowledge and structure is sorely lacking. Lasso’s new ministers will most likely have to rebuild their offices from the ground-up: a challenge in most circumstances but a Herculean one given the pandemic.
These challenges are daunting, but so far President Lasso has shown willingness to work with other parties and restore press freedoms. If Lasso, the cabinet, and the legislature can find common ground, the future prospects for Ecuador appear strong.
Daniela Maag is a PhD candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. She specializes in comparative politics in Latin America and has previously taught at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador.