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Daniel Noboa: Hope for Ecuador?

Gabriel Gonzalez Zorrilla
October 18, 2023

The family of Ecuador's new president, Daniel Noboa, made its fortune in the banana trade. But 35-year-old Noboa has hardly any political experience. How does he plan to tackle the rampant violence in his country?

Daniel Noboa, center, in a white T-shirt, smiling and speaking into a hand-held microphone. His wife stands on his right, and some men are standing behind him.
Soon to be Latin America's youngest president: Daniel Noboa with his wife, Lavinia ValbonesiImage: Marcos Pin/AFP

Ecuador will soon have the youngest president in Latin America. In Sunday's run-off election, Ecuadorian voters cast their ballots for 35-year-old Daniel Noboa. He is two years younger than the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, previously the great hope of Latin America's social-democratic left.

Daniel Noboa's father Alvaro is a business magnate and the richest man in the country. He too ran for president, five times — without success. Now his son has succeeded on his first attempt.

The president-elect previously held various positions at the Noboa Corporation, and was elected to the National Assembly in 2021. It came as a surprise when he placed second in the first round of voting. At the start of the campaign, neither the political pundits nor the pollsters thought he had much of a chance.

Lacking experience and parliamentary support

Noboa has little political experience, and none at all of running public institutions. He was the chosen candidate of Accion Democratica Nacional (ADN), an electoral alliance of several centre-right parties. But his alliance will only have 14 MPs in the newly elected parliament. The main opposition force will be the left-leaning Revolucion Ciudadana party, which is close to securing the 50 seats it won in the first round of voting, out of a total of 137 MPs. This is not a good basis for stable government.

A mother and child walk past big purple and yellow election campaign banners and posters that read 'Noboa Presidente' and 'Daniel 35'.
Noboa made much of his youth during the election campaign, presenting himself as a new alternativeImage: Cesar Munoz/AP/picture alliance

Ecuador is also facing huge challenges. According to the media platform openDemocracy, in a mere two years, between 2020 and 2022, the murder rate increased by 245%, transforming the country from one of the most peaceful in the region to one of the most violent. Daniel Noboa first came to the attention of a wider public when he appeared in a televised debate wearing a bulletproof vest, after his political rival, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated.

Conservative program

But what does Noboa actually stand for? Is he really just a spoilt playboy, as he is sometimes portrayed? Or can he actually make a difference, in a country increasingly mired in violence?

"During the election campaign, Noboa himself defined his political orientation as 'centro-izquierda' [centre-left]. Nonetheless, he stands for business-friendly politics and conservative values, and can be classified as belonging to the right-wing camp," says Constantin Groll, head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's office in Ecuador.

It is also important to note, he pointed out, that Noboa's vice-presidential candidate, Veronica Abad, espouses "openly extreme libertarian and conservative-reactionary positions." Groll comments: "Noboa avoided appearing with her too often in the election campaign. All the same, she had a not insignificant role as a 'procurer' of votes from the very conservative segment of the electorate."

A man in a puffa waistcoat smiles as he picks up his ballot papers from two women behind a table in a voting hall. A sign on the table says 'The vote is secret' in Spanish.
Voter turnout for the runoff election on Sunday was high at around 82%Image: Gustavo Valiente/EUROPA PRESS/dpa/picture alliance

Very short term in office

However, Noboa can only hold the office of head of state and government for about 18 months, starting in mid-December. This is what remains of the term of the incumbent, conservative president, Guillermo Lasso, which is due to end in May 2025. Lasso dissolved parliament in May 2023 after two years in office: It had initiated impeachment proceedings against him on charges of embezzlement. Early elections had to be held as a result. Lasso decided not to run again, partly because of his disastrous standing in the opinion polls.

So why did voters decide in favor of another candidate from the right-wing camp, despite their disappointing experience with the incumbent? Noboa's main opponent, Luisa Gonzalez, belongs to the left-wing camp of former president Rafael Correa (in office 2007-2017). Correa was convicted of corruption, and now lives in exile in Belgium. Constantin Groll thinks voters simply didn't trust the left to provide forward-looking solutions for the country.

Nighttime: A large crowd waves white and purple flags. Some people are standing in an purple, open-topped election car. It has a picture of Noboaand 'Daniel Noboa Azin - Presidente' on the hood.
Noboa's supporters celebrating after the vote on Sunday in the coastal city of Guayaquil, EcuadorImage: Maria Fernanda Landin/REUTERS

"Through his appearance, discourse and aesthetics, Noboa succeeded in presenting himself during the election campaign as a young and, above all, a new alternative for politics beyond the old, entrenched divisions. This was largely due to a skillful campaign on social media, and the avoidance of direct confrontation," says Constantin Groll.

However, Jorge Vicente Paladines, an expert in criminal law and professor at the Central University of Ecuador, comments that the very short term in office will severely limit the new president's room for maneuver. "Eighteen months is really too short for him to keep his election promise to significantly reduce the homicide rate and minimize the fundamental problem of insecurity," says Paladines.

Constantin Groll from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Quito shares his fear. "Very little about the security situation will change in the short term," he says. Groll thinks it likely that the president will try to initiate security policy reforms through referendums. He has already announced one of these, during the election campaign.

This article has been translated from German.