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Ecuador election: former banker Lasso in lead with 93% of vote counted

A conservative businessman looks likely to become Ecuador’s president, with voters rejecting the leftist movement started by the former president Rafael Correa more than a decade ago.

The electoral council in Ecuador did not declare a winner in the contest to replace Lenín Moreno as president next month, but results released by the agency showed the former banker Guillermo Lasso with about 53% of votes and the leftist Andrés Arauz with 47%, with more than 93% of votes counted. Arauz conceded the election.

In neighbouring Peru, voting in a crowded field of 18 candidates was virtually certain to result in a second round of presidential voting in June.

Voters in the two countries cast ballots under strict public health measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently worsened in both countries, prompting the return of lockdowns and heightening concerns over their already battered economies. Peruvians also were electing a new Congress.

In Ecuador, Arauz was backed by Correa, a major force in the South American country despite a corruption conviction that sent him fleeing to Belgium beyond the reach of 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. “He did not speak for all audiences … for the entire population, and he could not respond to human rights accusations of the Correista era.”

Correa governed from 2007 to 2017 and was 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.

Guillermo Lasso celebrates at his campaign headquarters in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Guillermo Lasso celebrates at his campaign headquarters in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Photograph: Angel Dejesus/AP

But Correa increasingly cracked down on opponents, the press and businesses during his latter term 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

Lasso finished second in the previous two presidential contests. He favours free-market policies and rapprochement with international organisations. He has proposed raising the minimum wage, finding ways to include more youth and women in the labour market and eliminating tariffs on agricultural equipment.

“We all wish for an Ecuador of opportunities, free and democratic, where all families can become prosperous,” Lasso said after voting.

Elections officials did not plan to officially declare a winner on Sunday, but at least one head of state congratulated Lasso on the outcome. The Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle Pou, tweeted that he had spoken with 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 surge in Covid-19 cases. Ecuador had recorded more than 344,000 cases and more than 17,200 deaths as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The new president’s main task will be to “depolarise the country”, Jaramillo said. “There will be no signs of governance if the new government does not reach out and generate a platform where agreements with the [National] Assembly are possible.”

In Peru, to avoid a June runoff, a candidate would need more than 50% of the votes, and recent polls pointed to the leading candidate garnering only about 15% support.

The polls have had the centrist Yonhy Lescano as the frontrunner, followed by the center-right George Forsyth, the conservative Rafael López Aliaga and Keiko Fujimori, the opposition leader and daughter of the polarising former president Alberto Fujimori.

The vote came 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.

Claudia Navas, an analyst with Control Risks, said the fragmented election was the result of a political system that had 11 parties lacking ideological cohesiveness. She said Peruvians overall did not trust politicians, with corruption being a key driver of disillusionment.

Navas said the congressional elections would probably result in a splintered legislature, with no party holding a clear majority and political alliances remaining short-lived. She said the new Congress was likely to continue to exercise its impeachment authority to reinforce its influence and block any initiative that threatened its power.

“Regardless of who wins, we believe that the president is somewhat unlikely to complete his or her term in office because of the of the populist-type of stance of the Congress and the risk of political instability is likely to persist through the administration.”

The country is among the hardest hit by coronavirus, with more than 1.6 million cases and more than 54,600 deaths as of Sunday.

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