Divided government in Ecuador?

Ecuador held elections to the Presidency and National Assembly (the unicameral legislature) on 19 February. Conveniently-named leftist Lenin Moreno received 39.4% of the vote for the Presidency, comfortably ahead of centre-right rival Guillermo Lasso, who received 28.1%. However, victory in the first round of presidential elections in Ecuador requires a candidate to be ten points ahead of their nearest rival, and to receive 40% of the vote: obviously, Moreno did not meet the latter condition. A runoff will therefore be held on April 2.

The second round looks to be a relatively close contest, on account of third-placing centre-right candidate Cynthia Viteri (who won 16.3%) endorsing Mr Lasso and fourth-placing candidate Paco Moncayo (who won 6.7%) declaring his opposition to Mr Moreno. One poll shows Mr Lasso with a four-point lead.

However, there is no second round for the Assembly, which, as far as I can tell, is elected through party-list proportional representation with an average district magnitude of 4.2. Members are mostly elected using provinces as districts, though some large provinces are divided into multiple districts.

The Assembly elections resulted in an absolute majority for Mr Moreno’s party, the PAIS Alliance, securing 73 seats to 32 for Mr Lasso’s party (Creating Opportunities, or CREO) and 15 for Ms Viteri’s (the Social Christian Party, or PSC) out of a total of 137. In terms of votes, the PAIS Alliance won slightly less than they managed for the Presidency (39.1%), while the opposition was more divided (CREO 20.0%, PSC 15.9%).*


If Mr Lasso wins the runoff, the story will largely resemble that of Peru, and to a lesser extent Argentina; candidate wins narrow victory in second round after trailing in the first, but is in a weak position in the assembly, with the first round ‘winner’ having a majority.

Mr Lasso will be in a substantially different position to the Peruvian president, Mr Kuczynski, whose ministers are subject to the confidence of the assembly: rejection of the cabinet three times allows him to dissolve the assembly. The Ecuadorian constitution requires a two-thirds vote to impeach Ministers (Art. 131); CREO on its own would be unable to defeat such a motion.

One option that Mr Lasso has available to him is dissolution of the assembly. Article 148 provides for dissolution by the President if “in his/her opinion, it has taken up duties that do not pertain to it under the Constitution, upon prior favorable ruling by the Constitutional Court; or if it repeatedly without justification obstructs implementation of the National Development Plan or because a severe political crisis and domestic unrest.”

The National Development Plan is written by the National Planning Council, apparently headed by the President. It thus seems plausible that the President could write such a plan for his agenda, and then argue for dissolution on the basis of the opposition failing to pass bills on that agenda.

Regardless of whether Mr Moreno or Mr Lasso wins, the two results (Ecuador and Peru) would seem to call into question the logic of combining an electoral system for the assembly that can very easily give a majority to a party with less than 40% of the vote against a divided opposition with an electoral system for the presidency that could deny that party the presidency.

*The vote totals here are those for the twelve ‘national’ members of the Assembly, elected by all voters. ‘Provincial’ members, those chosen by party-list within provinces, are elected on a separate ballot. The National Election Council does not furnish overall totals for the provincial ballot, and a cursory examination shows no substantial difference between provincial and national votes.

8 thoughts on “Divided government in Ecuador?

  1. It seems as if a two round system is bad for Presidentialism with a legislature elected by Proportional Representation. It would be better if the 2nd round was an election held in the legislative branch to vote for one of the top three candidates like Bolivia before it’s current constitution and even Chile before and during Allende, even though it caused a coup because of gridlock and Chile uses a two round system requiring absolute majority support in the first round, and if not, then the two candidates go on to the second round rather than a plurality majoritarian system as Ecuador uses.

    Another possibility is preferential voting for the President, Ireland and Sri Lanka uses variants of such a system. That might be better for a Latin American country to try. Using an optional number ranked system, and a second round could be held in such a system if the exhausted ballot is treated as a third candidate, and candidate wins 50% to win outright. Such a system might be better if a candidate wins 45% of the vote in the first round, it would be a waste as they are so close to a majority, the votes can transfer, saving the cost of having a second election.


    • Ecuador’s two round system is not the straight top-two but a modified version with 40% being enough in round 1 if there’s at least a 10% lead.

      Bolivia no longer does the runoff in the Congress, but has instituted the regular two-round system, with the votes of the first round also counting for Congressional seats.


    • “It seems as if a two round system is bad for Presidentialism with a legislature elected by Proportional Representation.”

      I imagine that a one-round system could be even worse; after all, I think that, in a one-round system, the probability of electing a president who have the opposition of the majority of the MPs is even higher.


      • I think the main problem with Peru and Ecuador’s recent elections is actually not the two-round system (which, let’s not forget, is not pure but modified TRS in Ecuador) but that the PR did not work as it should.


      • I don’t think that is correct, either logically or empirically, Miguel. If you have concurrent elections with PR and presidency by plurality, the most likely outcome is the winning president’s party having a share of seats near the votes that the president obtained. So divided government (opposition majority) should be very rare, albeit not impossible if there is a good deal of ticket-splitting or regional voting that distorts the votes-seats relationship in the assembly (assuming, as in Peru, districted PR with most magnitudes not large and also probably assuming D’Hondt).

        Typically with concurrent elections, the votes for the party are a little below the president’s votes. Thus it is very unusual for a party to have won a majority of assembly seats if that is not the newly elected president’s party. In fact, I doubt divided government has ever come about this way. The closest exception I can think of is one election in Costa Rica that produced an opposition majority. The presidency there is, of course, not elected by plurality, but until recently there had not been runoffs in practice. So perhaps we could count this as one such case. Are there others? I don’t think so.

        A two-round election of the president, with PR for assembly concurrent with the first round, should make this more common (though still exceptional). The basic reason is simply that the electoral method for the presidency makes it possible for a candidate who did not get the plurality in the first round to win. Thus if one has a manufactured majority, despite PR, for the largest party, but a different party’s presidential candidate wins the runoff, you get divided government. Still, I never would have imagined this would happen in two elections within a year of one another (and neighbors, at that).


      • By the way, Miguel, since we’re on the subject, would you perhaps be able to shed some light on the exact legislative electoral system of Ecuador? I couldn’t find anything on your website.


      • My idea – imagine that, in a PR system, several parties make an – explicit or implicit – alliance that puts the first party in minority position; in an one-round presidential election (where probably the president is from the party with most votes), this will mean that the parliamentary majority was opposed to the president; this will be more unusual in a two-round system, because it is natural that in the second round the same parties who compose the parliamentary majority will also coalesce in a common candidate.

        Btw, I am Portuguese (relevant for two reasons – the scenario of a parliamentary majority without the first party; and the question of jdmussel about the electoral system of Ecuador)


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