Ecuador’s economy rocky as election nears

Ecuador is facing a sense of uncertainty in the lead-up to its upcoming presidential elections, with economic challenges and rising crime rates at the forefront of concerns.

The array of contenders competing in the August 20 presidential race have each promised to address the economic difficulties that Ecuador has grappled with, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also tackling the surge in criminal activities.

Yet, the scarcity of employment opportunities and growing feelings of insecurity, partially attributed to heightened criminal involvement, have compelled a growing number of Ecuadorians to seek better prospects abroad.

The outgoing President, Guillermo Lasso, a former banker, who secured an unexpected election triumph in 2021, expedited the elections in May to avert a potential removal from office by the legislature.

While Lasso had pledged to generate two million jobs, his government claims to have created 500,000 new positions over his two-year tenure.

The frontrunners for the August elections have put forth diverse strategies to address the nation’s economic woes, although without specifying specific employment targets.

Luisa Gonzalez, a leading candidate, intends to extend tax incentives to companies hiring young individuals. Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez, who came in third in the 2021 elections, aims to enhance regulation of digital platforms.

Conservative contenders Otto Sonnenholzner and Jan Topic have respectively proposed supporting entrepreneurial initiatives and public infrastructure projects.

Despite these promises, voters remain skeptical about the potential for substantial improvements. A significant number of Ecuadorians are choosing to vote with their feet, with around 822,000 individuals aged 18 to 45 having left the country by June of this year, according to government data. Approximately 1.4 million people emigrated from Ecuador throughout the entirety of the previous year.

A recent poll conducted by Ecuadorian polling firm Click Report indicated that Gonzalez, endorsed by former President Rafael Correa, holds 29.3 percent support, with Perez at 14.4 percent, and Sonnenholzner and Topic at 12.4 and 9.6 percent respectively.

However, over 16.8 percent of potential voters expressed their intention to cast blank ballots.

None of the candidates, who need to secure over 50 percent of valid votes or over 40 percent with a 10-point lead over their closest rival to win in the first round, have included migration policies in their campaign platforms.

Amid these concerns, a surge in violence, especially within Ecuador’s prison system, has further heightened the worries of voters. The recent prison riots in Guayaquil led the government to declare a state of emergency in late July. Much of the prison violence in Ecuador has been linked to groups competing for control over drug trafficking routes.

To address these security concerns, candidates have proposed various measures, including the construction of a maximum-security prison in the Amazon, the deployment of signal jammers in prisons, bolstering the equipment of police and soldiers, and imposing stricter penalties on criminals.

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