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  • Ecuadorian presidential debate in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Jan. 25, 2017

    Ecuadorian presidential debate in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Jan. 25, 2017 | Photo: Instagram

Wednesday saw the first debate between seven of the eight presidential candidates and revealed a deeply divided right-wing opposition.

In the wide-ranging debate on Wednesday, moderated by Andrea Bernal, a journalist with the conservative Ecuavisa network, seven of the eight presidential candidates answered questions on nine topics including employment, taxes, economic policy, freedom of expression, security, social security, and governance.

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The fiercest exchanges came early as the two leading right-wing candidates Cynthia Viteri and Guillermo Lasso – who both trail the governing Alianza Pais candidate Lenin Moreno by wide margins – attacked each other.

Viteri, leader of the far-right Social Christian party and only female candidate in the race, pressed right wing CREO-SUMA party leader Guillermo Lasso over his record as president of the Bank of Guayaquil and his repeated promise to create 1 million new jobs.

“The first requirement of anyone running for president is to be coherent in what they say and do,” said Viteri before pointing out that as CEO of the third largest bank in Ecuador, Lasso fired 10 percent of the bank’s workforce.

Lasso denied the charge, saying that he resigned from the bank in 2012 and that the figures Viteri was citing were based on a Facebook page produced by a public relations firm run by Viteri’s political ally and mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot.

“I’m not going to attack you Cynthia, nor am I going to defend you,” said Lasso adding that Viteri was confusing public policy with private practice.

Lenin Moreno, the leading candidate of the governing left-wing Alianza Pais party, did not attend the debate writing in an open letter that the debate – sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s financial capital – would not address key issues and was “based on confrontation and on behaviors and attitudes that devalue true politics as an instrument of ethical service to the country."

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The increasing vitriol between the two right-wing candidates raises questions about their ability to present a united opposition in what many speculate will be a runoff election between Lenin Moreno and one of the two right-wing parties.

The two-hour debate saw many of the candidates making often desperate and unsubstantiated declarations.

Fuerza Ecuador candidate Abdala Bucaram Jr., ex-soccer player and son of disgraced Ecuadorean President Abdala Bucaram who fled to Panama after being indicted on corruption charges, accused the current government, without any sense of irony, of being “the most corrupt in history.”

Cynthia Viteri promised that under her government there would be “zero taxes” and that policies which eliminate job security are good because they provide “freedom.”

Lasso, for his part, repeatedly promised to create 1 million jobs simply by cutting taxes, which would magically allow for greater social spending.

Former diplomat and Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Patricio Zuqilanda, leader of the Patriotic Society party, said that he would eliminate all taxes on Ecuadorean businesses in Quito and Guayaquil for five years, extending the tax holiday to 10 years for companies the provinces, and 15 years in areas affected by last year’s massive earthquake.

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Retired general and former mayor of Quito, Paco Moncayo, who heads the Democratic Left coalition, said he would create over 500,000 jobs through a tree planting program and public works projects in rural areas.

Ivan Espinal, former director of Ecuador’s social security agency and candidate for the Social Commitment party, repeated his “tough on crime” messages, promising a referendum on bringing back the death penalty and pledging to make Ecuador a “country of entrepreneurs.”

On Feb. 19 Ecuadorians will head to the polls to elect a President as well as representatives for the national assembly. The will also vote on a referendum banning public officials from holding assets in tax havens.

In the latest poll by CEDATOS, an independent polling firm associated with Gallup, Moreno leads decided voters with 34 percent while Lasso has the support of 23 percent of decided voters, and Viteri with 11 percent. Moncayo registered support from 8 percent of decided voters, followed by Bucaram at 4 percent. The rest of the candidates have 3 percent or less.

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