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Right-Wing Banker Pulls Off Upset Win in Ecuador Over Leftist Champion

"Now is a time for reflection," said Progressive International's David Adler. "The triumph of lawfare should send a chill through the global community."

Ecuadorean leftist presidential candidate Andrés Arauz speaks to the press to concede his electoral defeat in the country's runoffs in Quito on April 11, 2021. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

Ecuadorean leftist presidential candidate Andrés Arauz speaks to the press to concede his electoral defeat in the country's runoffs in Quito on April 11, 2021. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

Following left-wing economist Andrés Arauz's loss to right-wing former banker Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador's recent presidential election, Progressive International on Monday argued that the disappointing results reflect the unsettling "triumph of lawfare" and underscore the need for progressive forces of all stripes to unify behind an emancipatory vision in order to "defeat the reactionary right" worldwide.

"Only the strategic unity of progressive forces—leftist, Indigenous, feminist, ecologist, and beyond—is strong enough to defeat the reactionary right."
—Progressive International

In a contest that pitted Lasso's neoliberal agenda of privatization and upward redistribution against Arauz's social-democratic plans to improve the welfare of working-class Ecuadorians, many expected Arauz to emerge victorious.

Instead, Arauz—considered a protégé of former President Rafael Correa, a champion of the left who implemented policies that increased standards of living for the poor when he governed Ecuador from 2007 to 2017—conceded defeat.

"I congratulate him on his electoral triumph today and I will show him our democratic convictions," Arauz said Sunday night in the wake of Lasso's surprising win. Lasso, a two-time runner-up in presidential elections, received about 53% of ballots to Arauz's 47%. 

David Adler, co-founder of Progressive International, a global coalition seeking egalitarian change, commended Arauz for running on a "creative and compassionate" platform of "political-economic transformation that should inspire the world."

In the wake of Arauz's "devastating loss," Adler said, "now is the time for reflection."

According to Adler, "The triumph of lawfare should send a chill through the global community."

Last year, Steve Striffler, a professor of anthropology at University of Massachusetts Boston who studies labor history and Latin American politics, warned that the prosecution of Correa by a judiciary acting on behalf of Ecuador's then-President Lenin Moreno represented an expansion of "lawfare," which he defined as "a well-worn strategy" used by the region's "resurgent right" to sideline progressive political opponents through "manipulation of the judicial system."

"What is new in the case of Ecuador is the scale of this practice," wrote Striffler. "Perverting the legal system in order to subvert the democratic process has become the defining strategy—indeed, the essence—of [Moreno's] government, which is faced with plummeting popularity and an opposition that would win in any fair election. This is not good news for democracy in Ecuador or Latin America."

Striffler's warning looks prescient. Correa—who is now living in his wife's home country of Belgium after his politicized corruption conviction sent him into exile—backed Arauz, but years of right-wing attacks on Correa and his political allies appear to have hurt the leftist movement he spearheaded and his successor's campaign.

Some observers have also suggested that intraleft conflicts over extraction and Indigenous rights in Ecuador, where oil resources helped finance Correa's social programs, played a role in Arauz's defeat.

In February, Arauz led the first round of voting with more than 30% while Lasso barely made it into the final by beating Yaku Pérez, an Indigenous candidate from the Pachakutik party, by roughly half a percentage point.

According to France24, "Pachakutik refused to back either candidate in the second round and promoted blank votes."

"Pérez publicly annulled his own vote writing, 'Yaku president resistance' on his ballot," the news outlet reported. "Around 16% of votes were invalid, up from 9.55% in the first round."

Progressive International tweeted: "The key lesson of the Ecuadorian election is the core of our internationalist project."

"Only the strategic unity of progressive forces—leftist, Indigenous, feminist, ecologist, and beyond—is strong enough to defeat the reactionary right," the organization continued.

"United we win," the group said. "Divided we lose."

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