QUITO: Ecuador’s elections council on Sunday counted votes in an unexpectedly tight presidential runoff that has hinged on whether to maintain the pro-market policies of the last four years or return to the socialism of the preceding decade.
Left-wing economist Andres Arauz is offering to restore the socialist policies of his mentor, former President Rafael Correa who is living in Europe and has been convicted on graft charges. Banker Guillermo Lasso is promising open markets and renewed foreign investment to create jobs.
Public opinion group Cedatos said its exit poll showed Lasso winning 53.24% of the vote compared with 46.76% for Arauz, while pollster Social Climate said its results were within the margin of error and thus it did not release percentages.
The results are being closely watched by foreign investors, who say Arauz’s social spending plans are ambitious in the face of the government’s delicate financial situation and a weak economy that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is our moment, it’s the moment of the Ecuadorean people, it’s our historic moment, and nobody will stop the course of history,” Arauz said at a rally in Quito.
A Lasso aide said Lasso would not comment until the official results are announced, which is expected later on Sunday.
The new president will take office on May 24.
The oil-exporting nation’s economy was already weak due to low crude prices when the coronavirus outbreak started. The pandemic has pushed a third of the population of more than 17 million into poverty and left half a million people unemployed.
President Lenin Moreno, who did not seek re-election, imposed painful austerity measures as part of a $6.5 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund, but was unable to kick-start the economy.
A win for Arauz would follow recent electoral victories for the left in Latin America in nations such as Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
He has offered to give $1,000 to a million families as soon as he takes office, and provide benefits to young people such as free internet access.
Lasso is promising to create jobs through foreign investment and financial support for the agricultural sector.
Both candidates are calling on supporters to “take care of the votes” and denounce irregularities on voting day and during the vote tallying process.
Indigenous activist Yaku Perez, who narrowly lost out to Lasso for a slot in the runoff, is calling on supporters to spoil their ballots to protest what he called electoral fraud in the first round.
“I don’t trust either of the candidates, they have both been corrupted by the usual political parties,” said Mirella Parraga, 43, a homemaker, after voting null at a polling station in central Guayaquil, the country’s biggest city.
“I don’t want to give my vote to someone who will make the situation in this country worse.”
Ecuador in 2000 dollarized the economy amid a banking crisis and spiraling inflation.
The global oil boom helped Correa finance generous social welfare programs that fueled his popularity and allowed him to stay in office until 2017, but years of heavy borrowing ultimately put a strain on the government’s finances.
Moreno, once Correa’s vice president, quickly parted with the socialist economic policies.
An Ecuadorean court in 2020 sentenced Correa to eight years in prison on charges he received millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for public contracts. Correa, who lives in Belgium, accuses Moreno of using the justice system to pursue him.
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