Ecuador’s 2023 Election: What Noboa’s Victory Means

In Brief

Ecuador’s 2023 Election: What Noboa’s Victory Means

Daniel Noboa Azín is the youngest president in Ecuador’s history and faces immediate challenges in tackling the country’s grave economic and security crises.

Who is Daniel Noboa Azín? 

Noboa, of the National Democratic Action coalition, is the thirty-five-year-old son of Ecuador’s richest man and the heir to a business conglomerate with holdings across more than six countries. His father, Álvaro Noboa, unsuccessfully ran for president five times. 

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Yet until recently, Daniel Noboa was not well known. He was elected to a seat in Ecuador’s legislature in May 2021, but kept a relatively low profile, only passing one major piece of legislation. He was not polling among the frontrunners ahead of this year’s August 20 election, but a strong television debate performance, coupled with his image as a young political newcomer and his ability to sidestep Ecuador’s increasing polarization, paid dividends.

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During the October 15 runoff, he beat Luisa González, his leftist rival and ally of former populist President Rafael Correa (2007–17), by a small but comfortable margin. But Noboa’s victory owed as much or more to widespread antipathy toward González’s and Correa’s party as it did to his own campaign or proposals. Opposition to “Correísmo,” remembered by many Ecuadoreans for corruption and authoritarian leanings, remains one of Ecuador’s strongest political forces. 

A map of Ecuador with data points such as the population (18 million)What does Noboa’s victory mean for Ecuador?

Noboa will face immediate challenges in office as Quito is experiencing economic struggles and an unprecedented surge in organized crime, which has made Ecuador one of Latin America’s most violent countries. Noboa was elected through snap elections called by incumbent President Guillermo Lasso to avoid impeachment; that means he will govern for an unusually short term of just eighteen months before the next general election scheduled for May 2025. But for even the most adept of politicians, that is a small window of time to make progress on Ecuador’s multiple and severe issues. Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita declined after 2014 and only recently recouped the losses that occurred after that year. In 2022, the country had the third-highest external debt as a percentage of GDP of all countries in Latin America. 

However, Ecuador’s economic problems pale in comparison to the challenge posed by a spike in crime and violence. Over the last three years, the country has become one of Latin America’s most violent due to an unprecedented surge in cocaine trafficking by domestic and foreign criminal organizations through its Pacific ports. Ecuador is on track to have an estimated 40 homicides per 100,000 people by the end of this year, one of the highest rates in the hemisphere. This increase in crime and violence is driving a new wave of outmigration, with Ecuadoreans being the second-largest nationality to traverse Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap in 2023. 

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Noboa, who defines himself as center-left, has sketched out some reforms [link in Spanish] to tackle these issues, which include creating a new crime-fighting intelligence unit, employing prison ships, and increasing social assistance for the poor, though it is not clear how he will finance all of this. While he could make a dent in solving Ecuador’s multiple dilemmas during his short time in office, he has not yet emphasized tackling corruption and criminal capture of parts of the state, which is troubling. 

Ecuadorean presidential candidate Daniel Noboa Azín speaks during a political rally.
Ecuadorean presidential candidate Daniel Noboa Azín speaks during a political rally. Karen Toro/Reuters

Can Noboa restore stability to Ecuador? 

It’s unlikely. Ecuador has been and will continue to be destabilized by the rise of powerful organized crime groups, both foreign and domestic. Continued political instability doesn’t help, but it is a secondary concern. The Citizen Revolution Movement, the party of Correa and González, has a plurality in Ecuador’s National Assembly, but it is likely that Noboa will have an easier time working with the party than with President Lasso, who the party has attempted to impeach several times. Noboa adopted a transactional approach to dealing with Correa’s party while working in the legislature and has not positioned himself as an adversary. González also promised to work with Noboa’s coalition in her concession speech. 

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High on the agenda for the Citizen Revolution Movement party is reversing the wave of anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions that landed several of its top leaders behind bars, as well as a corruption conviction against Correa, which he avoids by living in Belgium. In recent years, impeachment and threats of impeachment have become normalized, strengthening the legislature’s hand vis-à-vis the executive. Noboa, whose coalition holds just 14 seats in the 137-seat National Assembly, may help the Correísta party secure its wish, or at least stand by, in exchange for legislative support on his reforms. The bigger wild card is how the Build Ecuador Movement party of slain presidential candidate and anti-corruption crusader Fernando Villavicencio—which holds the second-most seats in the assembly—will position itself. Its leaders strongly oppose Correa’s party and could seek to disrupt dealmaking between Noboa and the Correístas. 

What are the regional implications of the vote’s result?

Most likely, the region will see continuity. Had Luisa González won the presidency, Ecuador might have pursued a diplomatic pivot away from the United States and toward geopolitical competitors such as China and Russia, as it did under Correa. 

That is less likely with Noboa in office. It’s not so because he styles himself as a champion of the prevailing international order, but rather that he sees maintaining close ties to the United States as the path of least resistance after his two predecessors, Lenín Moreno and Guillermo Lasso, deepened diplomatic and security ties with Washington. Ecuador needs security assistance, which primarily comes from the United States. If Noboa fails to turn around Ecuador’s security situation, then Albanian, Colombian, Mexican, and Venezuelan criminal organizations that are active in Ecuador will continue to deepen their infiltration of the country’s institutions and reap massive profits with clearly negative consequences for the rest of Latin America.

Michael Bricknell created the graphic for this In Brief.

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