Ecuador Vote Count Delayed Until Wednesday as Protests Mount

  • Preliminary results show Moreno with 39.1%, Lasso with 28.3%
  • Runoff on April 2 could favor conservative candidate Lasso

Ecuador’s top electoral authority will wait until Wednesday to announce whether the South American country faces a runoff presidential election, the organization’s President Juan Pablo Pozo said in a press conference.

As crowds of demonstrators gathered outside the offices of the National Electoral Council, or CNE, in Quito and other cities to demand the immediate publication of the results, Pozo told reporters "there is absolutely nothing to hide". He said that the count has slowed down because the body needs to review inconsistencies affecting 5.5% of the returns.

Release of the results slowed to a crawl late Sunday. Lenin Moreno, the candidate of the ruling Alianza Pais movement, held a 10-point lead in the country’s presidential election over conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso but remained short of the threshold needed to avoid a second round runoff in April, according to preliminary results.

“Never before has there been a need to wait three days to know the results of a presidential ballot in Ecuador,” said Leon Roldos, a former vice president and presidential candidate in a WhatsApp message.

With 89.3 percent of the valid votes counted, Moreno had 39.1 percent, while Lasso received 28.3 percent, the CNE said. The front-runner needs at least 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point margin to win in the first round. An April 2 runoff could favor Lasso as opponents of the government rally behind him. Eurasia Group said earlier this month the opposition would have a 60 percent probability of winning in a second round.

In a statement, Ecuador’s Entrepreneurial Committee, an umbrella business association, demanded a swift count. “The peace and tranquility of the nation are themselves at stake, and economic recovery will only be possible with transparency,” it added. A coalition of leftwing political organizations released a similar statement.

Ecuadoreans are choosing a successor to President Rafael Correa, who for the first time in more than a decade wasn’t on the ballot. After voting in Quito, Correa declared that Moreno would win without a runoff. Highly popular after spending more than $300 billion on social programs, infrastructure and expanding the government’s role in South America’s seventh-biggest economy, he had to ramp up government debt to maintain spending when the price of oil, the OPEC member’s top export, plunged after 2014.

Via his Twitter account, Correa acknowledged on Monday the possibility of a runoff and warned of a “dirty campaign” as corruption allegations, mainly directed against Moreno’s running mate, current Vice President Jorge Glas, overshadowed the final days of campaigning. Glas has denied any involvement in bribery related to Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and state-owned downstream oil company Petroecuador.

Meanwhile Lasso said “there will be a second round and we have no doubt that on April 2 we’ll beat Correism,” in reference to Correa’s political project. Lasso pledged to join protesters in Quito to defend the electoral results. Longtime political rival Jaime Nebot, the conservative mayor of Guayaquil, said he would call for a massive protest to ensure the will of the voters was respected.

On Monday evening the defense ministry and military high command issued a joint statement to deny rumors of an uprising by some officers to defend the electoral result. Unlike its ally Venezuela, where the armed forces are controlled by the government, in Ecuador the military has remained relatively independent. They did however broker several irregular changes in government forced by street protests in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Campaign Proposals

Moreno, Correa’s chosen successor and a former vice president, has pledged to expand benefits to the poor, including tripling a monthly cash transfer to low-income families to $150, free housing, higher pensions for seniors, and 40 new technical universities, despite an economic recession. Lasso has proposed cutting taxes and courting foreign direct investment to create jobs while also scrapping a controversial media law and recovering judicial independence.

There were six other candidates on the ballot. Voters also chose the 137 members of Ecuador’s National Assembly, five members of the Andean Parliament, and decided whether to bar elected and professional public officials from owning assets in tax havens. Cynthia Viteri, who has said she would support Lasso in a second round, was in third place with 16.4 percent of votes. The abstention rate was about 18 percent.

According to a quick-count of the legislative vote by non-governmental organization Participacion Ciudadana, Alianza Pais would retain a slight majority of the 137-seat congress, but lose its current two-thirds majority. “We think the opposition could have better chances to win in a runoff, without this being a foregone conclusion,” Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Juan Lorenzo Maldonado wrote in a report. “We expect a positive reaction of Ecuador’s asset prices if a runoff is confirmed.”

Bond Returns

The U.S. bond market is closed Monday due to a public holiday while Ecuador’s government bonds were little changed in European trading. In the past six months, Ecuador’s dollar debt has returned 13.5 percent compared with an average loss of 1.1 percent for developing economies, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. data.

The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to contract for a second consecutive year in 2017 before rebounding next year.

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