The upcoming runoff presidential election in Ecuador should be a slam-dunk affair.
Lenín Moreno is the former Vice President (2007-2013) under President (2007-present) Rafael Correa. A self-avowed revolutionary, Moreno is known mainly for his services for the handicapped.
Moreno´s rival is conservative banker Guillermo Lasso. We wrote about him four years ago (February 25, 2013 "Guillermo Lasso: The Big Surprise") when he entered presidential electoral politics for the first time and opposed Correa who won re-election with an outright majority of 57%:
It is 1999. You are an Ecuadorian. After a one-week bank holiday, you get up early, hop in the car and speed to your friendly neighborhood bank to take out money for food and rent. You see a line of people and discover
"the government imposed a widespread freeze of bank deposits ... Time deposits and repurchase agreements were locked for at least one year and saving deposits in excess of US$500 and one half of checking account balances were frozen for six months ... "
You look in your empty wallet, then ... you look in it again. You don´t believe it -- it can´t be true.
But wait -- The Big Surprise had only just begun:
"The vast majority of bank deposits only began to be returned to their owners a year later, when the sucre was replaced by the dollar as the official currency of Ecuador. The exchange rate of the refund was 25.000 sucres per dollar -- whereas at the moment the deposits were frozen, the exchange rate was 10.350 sucres per dollar. In other words, the deposits of the public were pulverized and the ´freezing of deposits´ in reality represented a transfer of about $2,500,000,000 from the depositors to the banks and to the creditors of the banks who were frequently the same bankers."*
And so, when the bankers finally gave you your money back, it was less than half of what you had given them. The banks were not robbed -- the banks were the robbers. This screwball, quirky turn of events in Ecuador was right out of a play by theater of the absurd dramatist Eugene Ionesco.
Hundreds of thousands of "little people" were economically destroyed. Planeloads and boatloads of them were forced to leave their country to search a livelihood in New Jersey, Madrid and points beyond. Given the sorry state of America´s and Spain´s economies today, thousands have returned home. You think they and their families have forgotten? You think Ecuador has forgotten?
They weren´t the only ones who had to leave. President Jamil Mahuad hightailed it out Ecuador where today he is a wanted man.
There is a direct Mahuad/Lasso connection. Lasso contributed $91,800 to Mahuad´s campaign for president, and subsequently served 37 days in the Mahuad government as Superministro de Economía.
If, today, you bring up the 1999 disaster with the banker Guillermo Lasso, he foams at the mouth, pounds on the desk, bewails to the heavens above and swears before God and country he had nothing to do with The Great Bank Robbery. If interrogated further, he will jump up and down, scream "Enough!"-- that you are "insulting my family!" In fact, there is only one thing Lasso has not done and will never do to get you to stop: offer documentary evidence that he wasn´t among the weasels in tweed suits who made off with your savings.
If Lasso doesn´t have a chance, why does he not only have a chance but a good one to win the run-off election of April 2?
The answer comes in two parts.
First, let´s look at the numbers.
The results of the first round of elections held February 19, 2017: Lenín Moreno won 39.35% to Guillermo Lasso´s 28.1%. Six other candidates split the difference. Voting is mandatory in Ecuador so the total turnout will not change much for the April 2 run-off election.
Moreno beat Lasso by 11%. An 11%-margin in the U.S., with 130 million voters for president, would be virtually impossible to overcome -- 14.8 million, to be exact. That is more people than live in Paris or Rio.
It is also more than the entire electorate of Ecuador.
Raw numbers explain why 11% in Ecuador is a different matter. With a total turnout of 10.3 million on February 19, an 11%-margin is only 1.1 million votes.
We come to the second reason why an upset for Lasso is entirely possible:
The Big However.
* * *
To understand why Lasso could win, you have to know what is pervading the air right now in Ecuador:
The Ecuadorian Constitution stipulates** that in order to avoid a run-off election, the leading candidate must obtain at least a 10% margin over the second-place finisher and acquire at least 40% of the vote. Moreno met the first requirement but barely missed the second.
You just saw why last week there was incredible tension throughout the country when the official count of some 10% of the vote on February 19 dragged on and on. Public outrage and enrage were generated by the possibility that Moreno´s ruling party was doctoring the results in order to give him the 40% necessary to win the election outright and avoid a run-off.
As our prior post discussed, "The Long Count" in official election returns reporting is a significant indicator of corruption. It could also indicate incompetence. In either case the Ecuadorian public´s angst and anger were fully justified.
The delay in reporting Ecuador´s election results came against a backdrop of on-gong revelations of corruption in Ecuador to the tune of $33.5 million in payoffs to Correa officials by the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
So much for the general aura of corruption in which Ecuador´s presidential campaigns are caught up.
As for the campaigns themselves...
Guillermo Lasso is running a competent campaign. He had four years to get his act together. To the steady barrage of attack ads claiming he is responsible for The Great Bank Robbery of 1999, he responds: if I am such a bad guy, why am I not in prison? The Correa regime had 10 years to legally charge me with theft; they never did it.
Although Lasso denies having foreign advisors, from start to finish his campaign is unmistakably American. (For example, unlike Lenín Moreno, Lasso visibly involves his family.)
We come to Moreno´s campaign.
Over a year before the U.S. presidential election of 2016, I noted (August 22, 2015, "President Trump?"):
I believe Hillary is set to crash. She is a priest without faith, a doctor without intuition. Her idea of a political commitment is a cocktail party. To date, she is running the same paint-by-the-numbers campaign that cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008. Such candidates are on rails; they can move only straight ahead or backward, never side-to-side. A switch pulled unexpectedly, a well-placed obstacle on the tracks, and they are irredeemably derailed.
Just when I thought no presidential campaign anywhere could be worse than Hillary´s, along came Lenín Moreno.
The French expression langue de bois expresses the situation perfectly. If wood had a mouth and could talk, Moreno is what it would sound like and say.
But why? Why is Moreno´s campaign as exciting as a wet tortilla?
To answer that question, we turn to President Rafael Correa, Lenín Moreno´s political mentor.
We discussed him on February 28, 2014 ("The ´Hamarthia´ of Rafael Correa"), just after Correa´s party had suffered its first major political defeat -- loss of the mayor elections in Ecuador´s three biggest cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.
I began our analysis with an anecdote from Correa´s book:
"On several occasions I met with the representative of the World Bank in Ecuador...I will never forget his smile that combined mockery and pity, as if he were only waiting for me to understand how the world worked and who ruled it...In April 2007, weeks after my investiture as President of The Republic of Ecuador...I expelled from my country the World Bank representative and his sarcastic smile. It is time for that international bureaucracy to learn to respect us."***
There it is. The ancient Greeks identified it, named it ὕβρις -- hubris. Hubris creates, calls out, hubris.
Wikipedia defines hubris as "extreme pride or self-confidence. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power." ...
[I]n Rafael Correa, we are staring at the makings of a genuine Greek tragedy.
Aristotle wrote that a fundamental element of tragedy is hamartia. Hamartia (ἁμαρτία) has been alternatively translated as fatal flaw, frailty, sin, trespass, mistake, miscalculation, error of judgment. The problem is, the more the meaning of hamartia is investigated, the more its meaning slips away. That is always the case when a word refers to a phenomenon deeply rooted in the unconscious. Scholars agree, however, that the most basic sense of hamartia is missing the mark.
Hamartia take various forms, e.g., ignorance of one´s origins ("Oedipus") and obsessive love ("Othello"). Hubris, however, seems to be the most common type. If hamartia is not always hubris, hubris is almost always hamartia.
Here is Aristotle´s analysis. Dramatists and critics around the world read it over and over and over:
"A perfect tragedy should...imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change, of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy...it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes,—that of a man who is not eminently good and just,-yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous...The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty..."****
Renowned -- in opinion polls of Latin Americans, Rafael Correa consistently scores 80%-plus favorability; neither an utter villain nor perfectly good -- a person like ourselves with family and friends; a man confronting a change of fortune from good to bad: so far, Correa fills the tragic hero role to perfection.
We come to the sine qua non of Greek tragedy:
Great error or frailty. Hamartia. Hubris.
We saw it in Correa´s encounter with the World Bank representative.
Hamartia appeared again when Correa chastised the world -- "el mundo nos ha fallado" (the world failed us) -- for not contributing $3.6 billion to his brilliantly inspired but poorly elaborated Yasuní ecology preservation project (see our post of September 2, 2013, "The Rise, The Decline, The Fall, and The Rise of Yasuní ITT").
Sidebar: will history date the start of Rafael Correa´s downfall with a grave error manifested not in Sunday´s elections but on August 15, 2013 -- the day he jettisoned his incredibly popular and creative Yasuní project and ordered the drilling of oil in the Amazon?
Every Saturday morning, his hamartia goes on display. In his 3-hour TV broadcasts President Correa routinely (obsessive-compulsively?) insults and humiliates not only political opponents and the media but also private individuals. That is not standard practice among presidents, and for two good causes.
(i) The average citizen will view such attacks as an abuse of power. He fears that if his president is free to humiliate anybody and everybody, the next target could be him.
(ii) A president by definition represents a country; he represents all its people. If he threatens or insults a citizen, it follows that the president does not -- or at least, might not -- represent him. Now, if the person occupying the president´s chair does not represent one citizen, who else does he not represent? A floodgate opens; a sea of doubts and questions of legitimacy rushes in.
Insults are always a grave, sometimes fatal, error. Machiavelli repeatedly warned against them:
"I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one, for neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy; but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you."*****
Sunday´s vote [in 2013] showed what happens when a public official breaks taboos -- there exists a trainload of them -- surrounding power. If given the opportunity, the people will come down hard -- with both feet...
Can Rafael Correa learn? Can he get rid of his hamartia and hit the mark? Or is his hamartia bigger than he is?
We know the answer of the ancient Greeks.
Back to the present:
In 2014, Correa acknowledged that hubris -- "arrogancia" -- on the part of his party was the main reason why it lost the big city mayor races. However, consistent with the Greek notion of hamartia as a fatal flaw, acknowledging (however indirectly) one´s own hubris is one thing; doing something about it is another.
Moreno´s message never varies. He said it in 2016; he said it again after the election of February 19, and in exactly the same words. "¡El que va a gobernar soy yo!" I am the one who is going to govern!
Moreno and his campaign staff seem unaware that triumphalism is a taboo in campaigns. The most famous case occurred in England. A week before the 1992 election, Labor Leader Neil Kinnock blew it as "the next prime minister" in his infamous Sheffield Rally.
The taboo against over-confidence is easily understood. People do not want their vote to be taken for granted. Indeed, if one´s vote is known in advance, why bother to cast it?
Triumphalism is another word for hubris. As mentioned, Correa has it; so does Moreno -- and in spades. ¡El que va a gobernar soy yo!
We conclude with the question we raised four years ago concerning Rafael Correa.
Can Lenín Moreno learn? Can he get rid of his hamartia of hubris, of extreme pride, of self-overestimation -- of his soberbia (Spanish)? Or is it bigger than he is?
We know what the ancient Greeks would say.
Update: February 26. The Gallup-affiliated CEDATOS, which I regard as the most reliable polling firm in Ecuador, just published the results of a poll conducted February 23-24. Lasso is leading Moreno 52%-48%.
Voting is mandatory in Ecuador so staying home is not the preferred option. (True, on February 19, out of 12.8 million registered voters 2.3 million did not vote; however, that figure includes various categories of people who are exempted from mandatory voting, e.g., people over 65.)
We come to what may be the decisive factor. Fully 14% of the CEDATOS respondents said they intended to vote blank/void their ballots. A reasonable hypothesis is that 14% is disproportionately high in "left"-leaning voters who are not sold on Moreno.
Thus, we may be looking at the Ecuadorian equivalent of the Bernie Sanders supporters who did not vote in the November general election. By staying home they sank Hillary Clinton. That abstention was "the big surprise" we identified and analyzed in our post of January 10, 2017 ("Why Hillary Lost").
Update, March 3: I am being bombarded with this question: what should Moreno, as well as Lasso, do to win.
Regular readers know our long-standing policy:
This blog does not give advice; it offers opinion. The line between them is not always clear. Please keep in mind three considerations:
"An opinion may consist of advice which is (i) deliberately offered too late to be actionable; (ii) knowingly impossible to implement due to circumstances prevailing at the moment; and/or (iii) offered with the foreknowledge that the simple fact of its publication will render its practical value null and void."
Because the margin of victory on April 2 will be numerically very small, it is impossible at this point to predict the outcome. I will publish a note after election is over -- when it will be too late to be useful -- what the loser could have done to turn things around.
March 9 Update. The campaigns for the April 2 election are hot/hotter/hottest. It is hard to turn on the TV without seeing ads, programs, whatever, on Lasso´s possible involvement in The Great Bank Robbery of 1999. The barrage suggests the government, which backs Moreno, has seen secret poll numbers -- the kind I used to generate -- confirming the CEDATOS finding: Lasso is leading.
This blog has repeatedly indicated -- see our posts of March 19, 2013, September 20, 2015 and May 2, 2016 -- that negative information is best delivered early in a campaign. Otherwise, voters tend to dismiss it as a last minute mudball.
*"La gran mayoría de depósitos solo comenzaron a devolverse un año después, una vez adoptada la dolarización, a un tipo de cambio de 25.000 sucres por dólar, mientras que al momento de congelamiento, el tipo de cambio era de 10.350 sucres por dólar. En otras palabras, los depósitos del público se pulverizaron y el ´congelamiento´ de cerca de 2.500 milliones de dólares de los depositantes a los bancos y a los deudores de la banca, estos últimos frecuentemente los mismos banqueros."
Rafael Correa, Ecuador: de Banana Republic a la No República, Random House, 2011, pp. 78-9.
Here is Wikipedia´s cogent summary of the catastrophe:
"The 1998–99 Ecuador banking crisis resulted in about 70% of the country's financial institutions closing. In 1999, economic activity decreased by 7–8% and the currency depreciated by 195%.[clarification needed] Per-capita income in US dollar terms plummeted by 32% during the year. Unemployment increased from 9% to 17% and underemployment increased from 49% to 55%. 1.6 billion dollars of Government of Ecuador funds were used to bail out banks that failed as a result of corrupt practices and mismanagement. The money supply increased at an annual rate of 170% to pay back depositors of failed banks. In March 1999, the government froze bank deposits to avoid hyperinflation. By the end of 1999, President Mahuad's approval rating had dropped to 9%. Unresolved economic, financial and political problems led to massive protests that resulted in his departure from office on January 22, 2000."
**Art. 143.- Las candidaturas a la Presidencia y a la Vicepresidencia de la República constarán en la misma papeleta. El Presidente y el Vicepresidente serán elegidos por mayoría absoluta de votos válidos emitidos. Si en la primera votación ningún binomio hubiera logrado mayoría absoluta, se realizara una segunda vuelta electoral dentro de los siguientes cuarenta y cinco días, y en ella participaran los dos binomios más votados en la primera vuelta. No será necesaria la segunda votación si el binomio que consiguió el primer lugar obtiene al menos el cuarenta por ciento de los votos válidos y una diferencia mayor de diez puntos porcentuales sobre la votación lograda por el binomio ubicado en el segundo lugar.
***"Varias veces me reuní con el representante del Banco Mundial en el Ecuador...Nunca olvidaré su sonrisa entre burlona y lastimera, como tan solo esperando que yo entendiese cómo funcionaba el mundo y quiénes eran los que mandaban...En Abril de 2007, semanas después de mi investidura como Presidente de la República del Ecuador...expulsé del país al representante del Banco Mundial y su socarrona sonrisita. Ya es hora de que esta burocracia internacional aprenda a respetarnos." Rafael Correa, op.cit.. pp. 184-5.
****Aristotle, Poetics, Chapter 13.
*****Machiavelli, The Discourses, Book 2, Chapter XXVI. Contempt and insults engender hatred against those who indulge in them, without being of any advantage to them.