Ten years ago, as Latin America’s “pink tide” reached its high-water mark, leftwing leaders such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa were in power across the continent. But death and election defeat have since culled their numbers and trimmed their power. Cuba is on a path of moderate reform after the death of Castro. Venezuela was lurching from one crisis to another even before Chávez succumbed to cancer in 2013. Morales’s days as president of Bolivia are also numbered after he failed in an attempt last year to change the constitution to allow him to run for re-election. This Sunday, Ecuador will also make a change, with the first presidential election in more than a decade not to be contested by Correa, who is stepping aside after winning three consecutive terms. Whether the country now follows the continental trend towards centre-right government or remains a bastion for the left is being contested in an unusually dirty campaign.
The favourite is Lenín Moreno, a former vice-president under Correa who is standing for the ruling Alianza País coalition, but very different in style and politics from the outgoing president. As his first name suggests, Moreno is from a leftwing family, but he has a reputation for inclusiveness openness and humour that earned him approval ratings above 90% when he quit the vice-presidency in 2013 to take up a United Nations post as special envoy on disability. If he wins, he would be the first paraplegic head of state, having used a wheelchair since he was shot in a robbery.
Opinion polls in Ecuador are notoriously unreliable and politically skewed, but regardless of affiliation they all give Moreno a strong lead. Few, however, suggest he will secure an outright win in the first round, which would require either a majority of votes cast or more than 40% and a 10-point lead over his nearest rival. If he falls short of this target, there would be run-off on 2 April against the second-place candidate, most probably Guillermo Lasso, of the rightwing Creo-Suma alliance.