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Ecuador edges towards conservative banker in presidential vote
12 April 2021, 07:54
Meanwhile in neighbouring Peru, a crowded field of candidates looks likely to guarantee a second round of voting in June.
Voters in Ecuador have appeared to turn to conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso in the presidential election run-off, rebuffing a leftist movement that has held the presidency for more than a decade.
In neighbouring Peru, a crowded field of 18 candidates is virtually certain to result in a second round of presidential voting in June.
Voters in Ecuador and Peru cast ballots under strict public health measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently strengthened in both countries, prompting the return of lockdowns and heightening concerns over their already battered economies.
Peruvians are also electing a new congress.
The Electoral Council in Ecuador had not declared an official winner in the contest to replace President Lenin Moreno next month, but results released by the agency showed former banker Mr Lasso with about 53% of votes and leftist Andres Arauz at 47%, with just over 90% of votes counted.
Mr Arauz had led the first round of voting with more than 30% on February 7, while Lasso edged into the final by finishing about a half a percentage point ahead of environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez.
The leftist challenger was backed by former president Rafael Correa, a major force in the South American country despite a corruption conviction which led to him fleeing to Belgium beyond the reach of Ecuadoran prosecutors.
“Correa’s negatives outweighed the expectation of a new, unknown candidate who had no career and who did not campaign very well,” said Grace M Jaramillo, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia whose research includes Latin America.
“He did not speak for all audiences … for the entire population, and he could not respond to human rights accusations of the Correista era.”
Mr Correa governed from 2007 to 2017 as an ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. He oversaw a period of economic growth driven by an oil boom and loans from China that allowed him to expand social programmes, build roads and schools and pursue other projects.
But Mr Correa increasingly cracked down on opponents, the press and businesses during his latter stage in office, and feuded with Indigenous groups over development projects.
Ecuador also hit an economic slowdown in 2015, largely driven by the drop in oil prices.
Mr Lasso finished second in the previous two presidential contests. He favours free-market policies and Ecuador’s rapprochement with international organisations.
During the campaign, he proposed raising the minimum wage, finding ways to include more youth and women in the labour market and eliminating tariffs for agricultural equipment.
He said: “For years, I have dreamed of the possibility of serving Ecuadorians so that the country progresses, so that we can all live better.
“Today, you have resolved that this be so.”
Accompanied by his wife, Maria de Lourdes Alcivar, Mr Lasso said that from May 24 on he will dedicate himself “to the construction of a national project that continues to listen to everyone, because this project will be yours”.
Despite his declared conservative position on issues such as marriage equality, he promised to accept other points of view.
Elections officials did not plan to officially declare a winner on Sunday, but Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle Pou tweeted that he had spoken with Mr Lasso “to congratulate him on his success and to get to work together on the issues that our countries have in common”.
Ecuador is deep in a recession that many fear will worsen as lockdowns return because of a spike in Covid-19 cases. Ecuador has tallied more than 344,000 cases and over 17,200 deaths as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Peru’s crowded field of presidential hopefuls came months after the country’s political chaos reached a new level in November, when three men were president in a single week after one was impeached by congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign in favour of the third.
All former Peruvian presidents who governed since 1985 have been ensnared in corruption allegations, with some imprisoned or arrested in their mansions. One died by suicide before police could arrest him.
Claudia Navas, a political, social and security risk analyst with the global firm Control Risks, said the fragmented election was the result of a political system which has 11 parties lacking ideological cohesiveness.
She said Peruvians overall do not trust politicians, with corruption being a key driver of the disillusionment toward the political system.
Ms Navas said the congressional elections would likely result in a splintered legislature, with no party holding a clear majority and political alliances remaining short lived.
She said the new congress is likely to continue to exercise its impeachment authority to reinforce its own influence and block any initiative that threatens its own power.
To avoid a June run-off, a candidate would need more than 50% of the votes, and an exit poll indicated the leading candidate would get only about 16% support.
The poll had conservative leftist teacher Pedro Castillo as the frontrunner, followed by right-wing economist Hernando de Soto and Keiko Fujimori, the opposition leader and daughter of the polarising former president Alberto Fujimori.
The country is among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with more than 1.6 million cases and over 54,600 deaths as of Sunday.