In the February 2023 elections, politicians from Cuenca are not competing just for office; they are also battling for the influence and political leadership that some have had for more than a decade.
The 2023 sectional elections for the Mayor of Cuenca and the Prefecture of Azuay are for more than just the titular positions, they also represent the influence that those positions carry across Ecuador. They also showcase aspiring local leaders looking to knock off seasoned politicians who have wielded power both in and far beyond the Azuayan capital.
Younger candidates with less political experience face old leaders, a mayor who is seeking re-election, and the national parties seeking some dignities to remain in force.
“Those most at stake in 2023 are the Equality party, with Marcelo Cabrera, and the coalition that sponsors Paul Carrasco, with Creo,” says analyst Santiago León, former professor of political marketing at the Salesian Polytechnic University.
Both are politicians have long careers, but both lost local elections in 2019.
Since 1996, the power in the city and the province has been, most of the time, in the hands of these two politicians. Cabrera was mayor twice and prefect twice, while Carrasco was prefect for three periods.
In 2007 Correísmo broke out and achieved a ‘golden period’ in Azuay, conquering the Mayor’s Office, the Prefecture and a good part of the councilors and assembly members of that time.
In 2019, new characters and political groups appeared, such as the current mayor Pedro Palacios. He also has a lot to gain or lose in these sectionals. Palacios wants to maintain the power that he conquered in 2019, when he was a businessman with no past in the public sector.
But by 2023 he is going in the elections with his own movement and candidacies throughout Azuay. His party, Nueva Generación, has been filled with cadres from other organizations, including ex-correísmo militants, ex-supporters of Jefferson Pérez and organizations such as Avanza.
His main rival will be Marcelo Cabrera, although they are not seeking the same position, says León. “Their dispute will be for local leadership,” he says.
The former mayor leads the Equality movement, which, since 2008, has maintained a strong presence in the local administration. In 2021 it was the only political organization in Cuenca that got a seat in the National Assembly.
That allowed Cabrera to get closer to the ruling party, support Guillermo Lasso in the second round, and then reaching the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works. From there he maintained his influence by appointing trusted officials in some Executive institutions.
In 2023, Cabrera is risking the power he has built since he won his first election as prefect in 1996. He arrives at the sectionals with an internal crisis in Equality, with a mayoral candidate who is not among the favorites and without lists of councilors.
The latter is still being resolved in the National Electoral Council.
Another character who seeks to regain prominence is Paul Carrasco, who after holding the Azuay Prefecture for three terms, tried out a presidential candidacy in 2021, finishing last.
Carrasco achieved a coalition between his Total Renewal (Challenge) movement, and the pro-government Creo, Centro Democrático, and the Pueblo Igualdad y Democracia movements.
His candidacy represents both his aspirations to return to public administration, and those of the ruling party, which is trying to achieve a local administration for the first time in Azuay.
For the former, the results will decide his political future. Beyond his success in Cuenca, he is trying to help Reto achieve national success.
The 2023 sectionals are also key to the Citizen Revolution, which hopes to resurface in Azuay, after some 2019 sectionals in which they failed under the banner of Fuerza Compromiso Social.
The former assemblyman says that, in the current political context “it is possible [for the Citizen Revolution] to recover Cuenca and Azuay.”