Latin America is currently experiencing political polarization as rival parties dispute votes and erode citizens’ trust to ensure more time in power. Meanwhile, forces with ideologies beyond the left-right dichotomy have joined the political debate and redefined conservatism, liberalism, and socialism as they articulate solutions to social and economic woes.
During the run-up to presidential elections, countries in the region have faced a range of debates about which political groups and ideologies are best suited to resolve the political crisis and growing economic instability, curtail rising violence and corruption, and address the lack of legitimate political representation.
Ecuador is currently facing many of these challenges. Like other Latin American countries, it is grappling with an acute political crisis in which the population has lost faith in the governing capability of their representatives and started to mistrust established parties in the political system. Originally, Ecuador was not scheduled to hold presidential elections until 2025, but elections were brought forward amidst allegations of corruption against President Guillermo Lasso. The country is also dealing with the dissolution of the National Assembly among other crises, including a lack of security, increased incidence of violence and crime (including car bombs, explosions at gas stations, daily shootings near of schools, and other attacks), and political and economic instability.
Political tensions in Ecuador rose as President Lasso faced charges of embezzlement. To avoid the impeachment process, he invoked Article 148 of the Ecuadorian constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. This mechanism is known as muerte cruzada ("mutual death") and requires special presidential elections to be held after the National Assembly is dissolved, thus giving the population the opportunity to remove the president.
For Ecuadorians, this election was not an unwelcome prospect, since there was already widespread dissatisfaction with Lasso’s approach to governance and lack of responsiveness to citizens’ demands. This was reflected in low approval rates for the country’s executive branch (15 percent) and the legislative branch (10 percent).
On 15 October 2023, amidst a climate of fear generated by political violence and a wave of murders of politicians and union leaders, Ecuadorians went to the polls in hopes of choosing a president to lead the country out of the ongoing violence and socioeconomic uncertainty.
The election of Daniel Noboa—an outsider with no political experience and without a defined ideology—continues a tradition of center-right rulers, albeit with a less conservative approach. By choosing an outsider, young voters in particular sent a message that they did not want more of the same policies. Instead, they selected a political newcomer who seemed capable of resolving the public security crisis, unemployment, and poverty, and stamping out drug trafficking.
Noboa’s proposals to overcome existing policy gaps and challenges have focused on improving the economy and security. Among his key economic proposals are a) a zero-based budget policy, in which a new budget must be draw up each year, instead of being based on the previous budget; b) increasing international reserves through careful accumulation of commercial and financial surpluses; c) greater investment in education, accompanied by vocational training programs aligned with the needs of the labor market; and d) generating policies to attract investors in technology, renewable energy, agriculture, and tourism, including through offering tax incentives and creating an attractive and safe business environment.
In the field of security, Noboa intends to a) reform the judicial system and police; b) establish transparency, accountability, and regulations to protect personal data; c) bolster judicial procedures that guarantee the right to a speedy and fair trial; and d) construct floating prisons on barges to detain dangerous criminals, among other proposals.
Furthermore, Noboa’s victory over Luisa González (who was backed by former President Rafael Correa) indicates that Ecuadorians do not want a return to correísmo. This is because correísmo has suffered the wear and tear of a part of the Latin American left that developed authoritarian tendencies and a reputation for poor public management. Furthermore, many sectors of society blame former President Correa (2007-2017) for creating the conditions that enabled drug trafficking to invade and control the Ecuadorian state.
The new Ecuadorian government will encounter serious challenges in carrying out its proposals and must act strategically to govern effectively. Noboa will face a very fragmented National Assembly, which will make it difficult to obtain broad support and form a majority to approve public policy. Given his short term of office (only one and a half years—the remainder of Lasso’s presidency), Noboa will not be able to execute all urgent policy measures. Ecuador’s budget deficit will also limit the scope of Noboa’s plans. Finally, rising social tensions and volatility could explode into new and violent protests if the new president fails to satisfy the most basic demands of the population.
With regard to relations with neighboring countries, some have been concerned that a new president without political experience would be ill-equipped to negotiate trade agreements and to navigate foreign policy in general. However, Noboa seems to be aware of Ecuador’s need to maintain good relations with its neighbors, and to seek economic support and boost foreign investment while also working with regional partners to combat drug trafficking within Ecuador and at the country’s borders.