February 24, 2021
La Opinión, February 26, 2021
When Donald Trump began his final campaign to convince the American people and the world, or at least his supporters, that the US election was stolen from him, he didn’t get any help from most of the US media. Most journalists here — as well as the experts they rely upon — wanted to see some evidence. And none was forthcoming.
But the same standards don’t always apply when “stop the steal” becomes the rallying cry of election losers in other countries. As you read this now, a concerted effort is underway to discredit the February 7 presidential election in Ecuador. As in the US, the political situation is polarized.
Andrés Arauz, an economist who served as a minister and director of the Central Bank in the prior (2007–2017) social democratic government of Rafael Correa, finished first. He will contest the April run-off election with second place finisher Guillermo Lasso, a wealthy, conservative businessman and banker. Yaku Pérez, an Indigenous lawyer, politician and activist, came in third and is therefore eliminated from the race.
The latest chapter, begun over the weekend, has the attorney general and comptroller general of the current government trying to seize “all digital content from the database that administers the electoral system.” The National Electoral Council (CNE) has rejected this.
Since the CNE is by law an independent authority, this interference by the attorney general and comptroller general is wholly in violation of Ecuador’s laws and constitution. But it’s worse than that. As with Trump’s defeat at the polls, there is no doubt about the outcome of the election. In this case, however, there is a government, aligned with some business interests and one of the losing candidates, that is trying to rob the population of its basic democratic rights.
That the government of President Lenín Moreno would resort to such measures is no surprise to anyone familiar with his presidency. Two months ago, a letter from 13 members of the US Congress summed up Moreno’s anti-democratic governance, which far surpassed those of his most important ally, Donald Trump:
“Over the last few years, President Moreno and his allies have jailed and persecuted opponents, violently repressed protests and engaged in dubious maneuvers to try to prevent opposition leaders from participating in the country’s February 2021 elections.”
But Moreno was unable to keep the country’s largest opposition movement off the ballot, despite a series of illegal measures directed at doing exactly that.
Arauz came in first with 32.72 percent of the vote, a 13 point margin over Guillermo Lasso (19.74 percent), with 19.39 percent for Yaku Pérez. This despite a profound media bias against Arauz, combined with more last minute illegalities by election authorities, such as banning images and the voice of the former President Correa in Arauz’s campaign advertising.
Pérez cried fraud and demanded a recount. He has submitted no evidence of fraud. But his claims were aided by geographical optics of the vote count: for most of the week following the election, Pérez maintained a lead over Lasso, and so he insisted he had won.
But anyone looking at the data could see that the areas remaining to be counted were decidedly more favorable to Lasso, and that Pérez’s lead would vanish. It appears that Pérez himself must have known this too; he is perhaps the first candidate ever in an election, to demand a recount while still in the lead among the votes counted.
In fact, a statistical projection made at 5:43 a.m. on the day after the election already showed that Pérez’s chances of landing in second place were extremely close to zero; and that his mean projected margin of loss would be 0.37 percent (it ended up at 0.35 percent).
Admittedly, the conspiracy theory of the election losers in this case — Pérez and his newfound allies in the Moreno government — is not all that clear about who did what to whom, or how, or for what reason, in order to cheat Pérez out of a second place finish. And logistically, it’s nearly impossible to even come up with a plausible theory of how it could have happened.
The same logistical impossibility, and lack of evidence, characterized claims of fraud in Bolivia’s October 2019 election. But there was prolonged repetition of these claims in the media, and support for the conspiracy theory from the Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observation Mission, in conjunction with the Trump administration. The false claims in Bolivia thus led to a military coup shortly thereafter; and massacres of Indigenous Bolivians by the coup government that had seized power. Today, most journalists familiar with the Bolivian election know that the charges of election fraud on which the coup was based, were false.
In contrast to its reports on Bolivia, the OAS observer mission in Ecuador has rejected the current false charges of fraud, stating: “the results show that, in the April 11 runoff, the candidates Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso will compete for the presidency of the republic.” They also denounced the interference of the attorney general and comptroller general in the electoral process.
The right to free and democratic elections is a fundamental human right, and should not be so easily violated when there are unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. The same standards that most of the media, government officials, and experts applied to Trump should apply in all elections: show us the evidence.