A group of Colombians has been designated this Thursday by the Ecuadorian Police as the alleged perpetrators of the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, victim of an attack that occurred the day before, when alleged hitmen shot him at the exit of an electoral rally in the capital, Quito. The expert Régis Dandoy, professor and coordinator of Political Science at the San Francisco de Quito University, analyzes for LA RAZÓN the next Ecuadorian elections, marked by this tragic event
Should the elections in Ecuador be suspended after the assassination of a presidential candidate just ten days before the polls?
The president of the National Electoral Council Diana Atamaint announced yesterday that the process will continue. The process is already very advanced: within a week, the first day of voting begins in the jail, the ballots are printed… It is very difficult to delay it. It should be remembered that these are early elections with a fairly tight calendar. There is not much chance for the National Electoral Council to change the date of the elections despite the trauma for the country.
How did this climate of violence come to be? We saw last month the assassination of one of the most popular mayors, in February, a mayoral candidate was killed…
The situation is worrying. Ecuador has no culture, it has no history of electoral violence. A year and a half ago, during the elections, murders began to take place. In total, there were 22 candidates, people from their team or relatives of murdered politicians. An electoral violence that did not stop in February and this August. They killed a mayor, an assemblyman… Situations are getting worse every time, we are facing a murder of a presidential candidate. There are increasingly higher levels of electoral violence.
Why do criminal gangs in Ecuador have so much power that they have been able to assassinate a presidential candidate in the middle of the street in the capital?
We still don’t know exactly who is behind the murder of Fernando Villavicencio. In many other cases, drug trafficking is responsible for electoral and political violence. They are powerful in Ecuador due to geopolitics: because Ecuador is a small country located between Colombia and Peru, the two largest cocaine producers in the world, and for them it is easier, more practical, to go through Ecuador to export their drug in many ports. Little by little, these criminal gangs were installed. In 2019, 2020, the groups started to break up and fight each other. Also with external influence, from bands from Colombia and Mexico. At the moment, Ecuador is a field of competition between different criminal groups, each one wants to control a part of the territory, a route, the ports… Unfortunately, we are in an electoral period and in the middle of that fight for the territory. The assassinations of candidates and politicians are indirectly the consequence of this situation.
Ten days before the early presidential elections, will this assassination have consequences for the Ecuadorian vote on August 20?
Probably. The elections are already printed, it is already impossible to change the name of the candidate on the ballots. So, we will have eight candidates for the presidential elections in Ecuador. As for the party of the deceased candidate (Movimiento Construye), it has the possibility of replacing it, of announcing its new candidate before the appointment with the polls. We do not yet know if the party will take this step. They have eight days to do so, regardless of the ballots. In fact, this already happened in February, in the selection elections (municipal and regional). The day before, hours before the elections, a mayoral candidate was assassinated. The party decided to name a successor, who was not on the ballot. Second, you also have to look at trends and votes. The candidate Fernando Villavicencio was not positioned in the polls in the first positions. That is, it did not seem that he was going to qualify to go to the second round (to be held on October 15). Villavicencio was not among the three favorites, on the contrary, in recent days he had been going down in the vote intention polls. He was around 10% support. All in all, we have to see what will happen on Sunday the 20th: if his voters will continue to support his party’s candidacy or if, without his figure, they migrate to others. It will be necessary to observe if there is a mobilization of the voters after the assassination to support his party, his candidates and his memory. It is too trivial to say, but surely there will be a before and after in the polls after the murder of Villavicencio.
Regarding mobilization, criminal gangs and drug traffickers have generated, on the one hand, an increase in participation for those who want to support democracy in Ecuador, but, on the other, it creates a climate of terror. In this sense, can you increase participation?
Fear does not help much with mobilization and electoral participation. At the moment, the crime, the acts of violence were located in the Ecuadorian coastal area. There was little activity in the mountains and in the Amazon. What has happened, a murder in the middle of the street in Quito, the capital, has traumatized the population. We have to see how the voters will react. Some candidates have called for the campaign to be suspended and for a meeting to be held to discuss peace and security. We will see if this finally comes to fruition and how the population will react. There could be a mobilization for peace, or, on the other hand, a mobilization of anger and against the public authorities and the alleged perpetrators. Likewise, it is likely that a decrease in electoral participation will be observed due to fear. It is logical to think that if they have managed to assassinate a presidential candidate –who had security and police backing–, what will they not be able to do with party activists, members of the polling stations… As well as the voters themselves who come on Sunday the 20th to the polls