Quito, Ecuador – Night had already fallen, and all the shops were closed on the Avenue of the Shyris, a main thoroughfare in the heart of Quito, Ecuador.
But part of the street was nevertheless packed last Sunday, as supporters of Daniel Noboa converged on the bleachers outside La Carolina Park to celebrate his victory over leftist Luisa Gonzalez in the 2023 presidential race.
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“This is a triumph for the youngest,” Maria Paz, 25, told Al Jazeera as she joined the revellers on the avenue.
At age 35, Noboa is set to become Ecuador’s youngest elected president, and during his campaign, he appealed to the country’s relatively young electorate. Nearly a fourth of all eligible voters are between ages 18 and 29.
But Noboa faces an uphill battle as he prepares to take over the Palacio de Carondelet, Ecuador’s presidential palace.
Faced with an abbreviated 18-month term in office, Noboa has little time — and little political backing — with which to address some of Ecuador’s most pressing problems.
But voters like Paz are optimistic. When she heard the election-night results, she rushed to the avenue with a life-sized cardboard cutout of the president-elect in tow. “Now I expect jobs to come and organised crime to leave my country,” she said.
So many issues, so little time
The circumstances of Noboa’s election are historic. In May, confronted with possible impeachment, current President Guillermo Lasso invoked a never-before-used constitutional mechanism known as “muerte cruzada” or “two-way death”.
That allowed him to dissolve the National Assembly — at the expense of ending his own presidency. Lasso had 90 days to call a new election.
The “two-way death” also limited how long Lasso’s successor could serve in office. Normally, a full presidential term is four years. But under “two-way death”, Lasso’s successor can only serve out the remainder of his term: 18 months.
That means Ecuadorians will once again go to the ballot box in May 2025, barely a year and a half after Noboa is sworn in.
The brevity of that mandate puts pressure on Noboa to act — and act fast.
“He must deal with the insecurity. To some extent, he should promote public health, support the most impoverished sectors, and grant opportunities for higher education,” Santiago Basabe, the director of the Ecuadorian Association of Political Science, told Al Jazeera.
“Other than that, I don’t think he can do much more in this given time.”
Governing with a fragmented assembly
According to Basabe, Noboa is the first head of state since 1979 to come to power without the endorsement of a formal political party.
The heir to one of Ecuador’s wealthiest families, which made its fortune in banana exports, Noboa is a relative newcomer to national politics. He was first elected to the National Assembly in 2021, and he was in the midst of his inaugural term when the legislature was dissolved.
As a freshman assembly member, Noboa had not yet risen in the ranks of an existing political party nor formed a robust political movement.
So he relied on the backing of two existing parties to support his bid for the presidency: a group called People, Equality and Democracy (PID), plus the Revolutionary and Democratic Ethical Green Movement (MOVER).
Together with Noboa’s own movement, they formed a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (ADN). But each party still maintains its independence. Neither PID nor MOVER is formally led by Noboa.
In addition, Noboa must also deal with a fragmented National Assembly. Since new legislative elections were held in August, no single political group holds an overall majority.
Of the 137 seats in the assembly, Noboa’s ADN coalition secured approximately 14 seats, compared with about 52 for the Citizen Revolution Movement, the party of Gonzalez, his presidential rival.
Neither total is enough to lead the assembly without additional votes from outside parties.
“Pragmatism must be his northern star,” Basabe said. He believes that Noboa should avoid engaging with the National Assembly as much as possible, focusing instead on what he can do through executive action.
“Buying new gear for the security forces doesn’t need authorisation from the National Assembly. He only needs to devote some budget to it and have the political will to push it forward,” Basabe explained.
Fears of a ‘Lasso 2.0’
Noboa also faces suspicion that he is part of a political trend rightward that began with Lasso.
The outgoing president was the country’s first elected conservative leader in nearly two decades. Like Noboa, Lasso was a businessman before his career in politics, having led a prominent bank.
In the lead-up to Sunday’s run-off race, Gonzalez and the Citizen Revolution Movement sought to link the two men, framing Noboa as a continuation of the rightward lurch Lasso began.
Critics pointed to his running mate Verónica Abad as evidence of that political leaning. A right-wing business coach, Abad has spoken about her desire to privatise Ecuador’s education and health services, and she has been vocal in her criticism of abortion and feminism.
But Noboa has described his views as centre-left, and analysts stress it is too soon to understand how he might govern, given his limited political history.
“He’s a 35-year-old kid with no real political experience, who answers to an enormous fortune. No one has a clue about what his government will be,” Basabe said.
Political analyst Arianna Tanca Macchiavello told Al Jazeera she believes fiscal and political constraints will define Noboa’s administration more than any ideology.
She explained his political campaign thus far has relied on optics, with Noboa presenting himself as neither right-wing nor left-wing.
“Noboa might need to leap from political marketing to governing,” Tanca said.
Both Basabe and Tanca indicated that Noboa’s choice of cabinet members would be an opportunity for the president-elect to establish his administration as distinct from Lasso’s. But Basabe warned that, if Noboa enlists only wealthy advisers and establishment figures, he would risk outraging the public.
“His cabinet should smell of diversity and taste like renovation,” Basabe said.
Facing Ecuador’s security dilemma
In the days since the election, Noboa has already taken actions to start to organise his administration and set priorities.
Much of his early moves have to do with Ecuador’s volatile security situation. Once a relatively peaceful country, Ecuador has seen its murder rate skyrocket in recent years.
In the first six months of 2023, Ecuadorian police documented 4,374 homicides, putting the country on track to be the third-most violent in Latin America.
Part of the problem stems from the increasing presence of organised crime, seeking to take advantage of drug-trafficking routes through Ecuador. The country sits between major cocaine-producing regions in Colombia and Peru and borders the Pacific Ocean.
The government has struggled to contain the resulting violence. On Tuesday, Noboa met with Lasso and asked him to summon a security council as soon as possible.
During the last presidential debate, Noboa also said he would hold a nationwide referendum over the role of Ecuador’s armed forces during his first 100 days in office.
According to Luis Córdova-Alarcón, an expert in conflict and violence at the Central University of Ecuador, Lasso used a military approach to combat organised crime, with support from the US and Israel.
“But there was no political strategy to accompany it,” Córdova told Al Jazeera.
Córdova believes this militarised “war on drugs” approach leads only to more violence. He instead thinks that Noboa should set his sights on investigating money laundering, rooting out official corruption and reforming the police.
But that could be a hefty challenge for 18 months in office, Córdova said. Noboa will have his hands full during that time.
“Lowering the criminal violence, reducing corruption and achieving economic growth are all priorities for Latin America. But you can only achieve one or two of them, not all at once,” Córdova said.
As she cast her vote last Sunday, political scientist Pamela Ledesma told Al Jazeera that 18 months as president may not be enough time to enact substantial change — but it is plenty of time to lose public favour.
“I believe that the victory will veer into a punishment for whoever wins,” she said.
Source: Al Jazeera