The unexpected defeat of Arauz in Ecuador’s election shows the challenges faced by the left in Latin America and what needs to be done to rebuild, writes Jonathan Maunders
Leftist Andrés Arauz suffered a shock defeat in last weekend’s Ecuadorian presidential election, losing out to conservative Guillermo Lasso. Arauz was widely tipped to win the run-off having comfortably led the first round of voting in February.
Despite leading the majority of opinion polls and receiving the backing of popular former president Rafael Correa, Arauz only secured 47.5% of the vote, while Lasso received 52.2%.
Arauz responded to the election defeat by vowing to build a wider, leftist consensus and unite those opposed to neoliberalism. He promised that “today is the beginning of a new stage of reconstruction of popular power.”
The election result is all the more shocking given that Lasso only narrowly made it onto the run-off ballot, after closely tying with indigenous activist Yaku Pérez and a controversial series of recounts.
Lasso, a former banker, ran under a right-wing coalition and has pledged to reject the policies of Arauz and former president Correa. There is no doubt that under Lasso’s leadership, Ecuador will shift further towards neoliberalism, increasing the inequalities that have grown in recent years.
What went wrong?
Many establishment commentators are naturally hailing Lasso’s election win as a conclusive rejection of the left, suggesting the Ecuadorian electorate suddenly moved to the right in the space of two months. As always, the truth is clearly more complicated.
Arauz’s commanding lead in the first round of voting came as a shock to many on the right, as was Lasso’s initial struggles. There’s little doubt it raised the stakes for Arauz’s neoliberal opponents and put a target on his head, inside Ecuador and abroad.
Within a week of Arauz securing his place in the presidential run-off, Colombia’s Attorney General attempted to link him with Colombian guerilla fighters. This came shortly after a video was released purportedly showing the guerilla fighters endorsing Arauz. The video was later revealed to be fake but it didn’t stop the lies.
Arauz and his team decried the smear campaign as fake news, but it is clear the attacks did have a role in his decline in support. Some of Arauz’s supporters have stated it all resulted in him spending more time refuting false accusations than presenting his plan for Ecuador’s future.
Meanwhile, America’s historic role in blocking leftist governments in Latin America is well publicised and many on Ecuador’s left have argued that the National Electoral Council’s decision to carry out recounts in the first round of voting was in response to American pressure.
There are clear lessons to be learned to in Arauz’s defeat and with upcoming elections in other Latin American countries, it’s vital they are consumed quickly.
The right should not be underestimated and poll leads should not be taken for granted. The neoliberal establishment will always launch desperate attacks against candidates and campaigns that threaten to create change. Leftists must be prepared for smear campaigns and foreign interference, and be prepared to clearly oppose them. This can only be done successfully through organisation from below and the urgent need to mobilise the social forces necessary in communities and among workers is perhaps the biggest lesson for the left.
There is still sizeable support in Ecuador for socialist policies and activists have had recent success in overturning neoliberal policies, but the left must heed the lessons of this election loss if it is to ever truly defeat the right.
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