In Ecuador runoff election, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso leads

QUITO, Ecuador – Voters in Ecuador appeared to be turning to a conservative businessman in Sunday’s presidential election who rejected a leftist movement that had presided over a decade that was marked by economic boom and years of recession while it was overcrowded in neighboring Peru. The field of 18 candidates almost certainly led to a second round of presidential elections in June.

Voters in Ecuador and Peru cast ballots as part of strict public health measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently intensified in both countries. The Peruvians also elected a new Congress.

The Ecuadorian electoral council had not declared an official winner of the competition to replace President Lenín Moreno next month, but the results released by the agency showed that ex-banker Guillermo Lasso with about 53% of the vote and the left Andrés Arauz with 47 % were just above 90% of the votes were counted. Arauz had led the first round of elections on February 7th with more than 30%, while Lasso reached the final with half a percentage point ahead of the environmentalist and indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez.

Arauz was supported by former President Rafael Correa, a major force in the South American country, despite a corruption conviction that left him to flee to Belgium out of the reach of Ecuadorian prosecutors. Moreno was also an ally of Correa, but turned against him in office.

“Correa’s negatives outweighed the expectations of a new, unknown candidate who had no career and was not camping very well,” said Grace M. Jaramillo, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia whose research includes Latin America. “He didn’t speak for all viewers … for the entire population, and he couldn’t respond to Correista-era human rights allegations.”

Correa ruled 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 programs, build roads and schools, and pursue other projects.

But in his last term in office, Correa increasingly took action against opponents, the press and companies and argued with indigenous groups over development projects. Ecuador also saw an economic slowdown in 2015, mainly due to the fall in oil prices.

Lasso finished second in the last two presidential competitions. He advocates free market policy and the rapprochement of Ecuador with international organizations. During the campaign, he suggested raising the minimum wage to $ 500, finding ways to get more youth and women into the labor market, and removing tariffs on farm equipment.

“I’ve dreamed of the opportunity for years to serve Ecuadorians so the country could progress so we could all live better,” Lasso said in front of a room full of supporters despite social distancing guidelines. “Today you decided that it should be.”

Accompanied by his wife, María de Lourdes Alcívar, Lasso said that from May 24th he will “devote himself to building a national project that will continue to listen to everyone because this project will be yours”.

Despite his avowed conservative stance on issues such as marriage equality, he promised to accept other viewpoints.

Election officials had no plans to officially declare a winner on Sunday, but at least one head of state congratulated Lasso on the election result. Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou tweeted that he had spoken to Lasso “to congratulate him on his success and to work together on issues that our countries have in common.”

Ecuador is deeply in a recession that many fear will worsen if lockdowns return due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Ecuador recorded more than 344,000 cases and more than 17,200 deaths on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

The main task of the new president will be to “depolarize the country,” said Jaramillo. “There will be no signs of governance if the new government does not create a platform on which agreements with the (national) assembly are possible.”

Peru’s election turned into a popularity contest, with one candidate even addressing how he suppressed his sexual desires. The overcrowded field of president’s hopes came months after the country’s political chaos reached new heights in November, when three men were president in a single week after one was charged by Congress on corruption charges and protests forced his successor to to withdraw in favor of the third party.

All former Peruvian presidents who have ruled since 1985 have been implicated in corruption charges and some have been detained in their mansions or arrested. One died by suicide before the police could arrest him.

Claudia Navas, a political, social and security risk analyst at global company Control Risks, said the fragmented elections were the result of a political system in which eleven parties lack ideological cohesion. She said that as a whole, Peruvians do not trust politicians as corruption is a major driver of disenchantment with the political system.

Navas said the congressional elections would likely result in a fragmented legislature, with no party holding a clear majority and political alliances being short-lived. She said the new Congress will likely continue to use its impeachment powers to strengthen its own influence and block any initiative that threatens its own power.

“So we are likely to continue to see significant legislative populism. This implies actions aimed at meeting the short-term needs and demands of the public at the expense of medium- and long-term sustainability,” said Navas. “Regardless of who wins, we believe that the populist stance of Congress and the threat of political instability by the administration make it unlikely that the president will end his term in office.

To avoid a runoff election in June, a candidate would need more than 50% of the vote, and an exit poll found that the top candidate would only get around 16% support. The poll had the conservative left-wing teacher Pedro Castillo at the top, followed by right-wing economist Hernando de Soto and Keiko Fujimori, opposition leader and the daughter of polarizing former president Alberto Fujimori.

The country is among the hardest hit countries by COVID-19, with more than 1.6 million cases and over 54,600 deaths on Sunday.

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