Left-Wing Candidate Heading for Victory in Ecuador Election

  • Moreno ahead by narrow margin, electoral council data show
  • Opposition candidate alleges fraud and calls for protests

Ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno is heading for a narrow victory in Ecuador’s presidential election, with the opposition claiming fraud after they led in the first exit polls, raising the prospect of a political crisis in the oil producing nation.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, ruling coalition Moreno was leading with 51.2 percent of the votes to 48.8 percent for conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso, according to the National Electoral Council. Exit polls by independent pollster Cedatos initially showed Lasso had the lead. The nation’s dollar bonds fell as much as 2.7 percent, pushing the yield on notes maturing in 2024 to 9.3 percent, the highest since December.

The Andean country’s 12.8 million voters are choosing a successor to self-declared socialist Rafael Correa at the end of a weekend of political unrest and protests in Venezuela and Paraguay. Avenues close to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council in Quito were closed to traffic since midday Friday amid an increase in security around the compound. Late on Sunday police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the electoral council headquarters in the city of Guayaquil, according to local TV stations.

Lenin Moreno

Photographer: Edu Leon/LatinContent via Getty Images

Moreno told supporters at a rally in his Alianza Party headquarters in Quito that he had won the elections even if results were not final, and urged his supporters to march to the headquarters of the electoral council.

“It’s the moment for peace and unity,” Moreno, 64, said. “There will always be disagreements but with generosity we’ll be able to reach agreements.”

Lasso, a former banker turned politician, also declared victory and claimed that some ballots had been altered.

"We’ll act peacefully but forcefully," Lasso, 61, wrote on his Twitter account. “We have to go to the streets to say DON’T STEAL MY VOTE because we want CHANGE in Ecuador.”

Tensions mount

Tensions escalated following the first-round vote on Feb. 19 when it took the electoral council three days to declare a runoff between Moreno and Lasso would take place. Last week, Lasso, his family, and supporters were pelted with vuvuzelas and other objects after watching the World Cup qualifier match between Ecuador and Colombia by people he later called "foreign mercenaries" hired by the government.

Moreno has pledged to boost public spending on housing, tripling a monthly benefit to poor families to $150, and to build 40 new technical universities. Meanwhile, Lasso has said he’ll improve freedom of speech and slash taxes by $3 billion annually to boost job creation and foreign investment, which was largely absent from Ecuador in the past decade.

Both candidates also clashed on their views regarding the status of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has taken refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London since June 2012. While Moreno has said Assange can stay, Lasso said he would ask him to leave within 30 days of his inauguration.

Assange congratulated Moreno on social media and said Lasso should be the one to leave the country in the next 30 days. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro also praised Moreno.

Correa, an economist, has ruled Ecuador since 2007 and is one of the longest standing leaders in Latin America. A win for Moreno would represent a slowdown in the regional trend that has seen center-right politicians in Argentina, Peru and Brazil replace more left-leaning governments.

Guillermo Lasso

Photographer: Marcos Pin Mendez/AFP via Getty Images

Concerns over protracted election results and a potential continuation of policy are weighing on Ecuador’s debt, with the country’s sovereign bonds due in 2022 slumping for a fourth day. Ecuador’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product reached 39.6 percent at year-end 2016, twice the level at the end of 2010, according to the Finance Ministry data.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that Ecuador’s economy will contract for a second consecutive year in 2017 with unemployment to 6.9 percent. The dollarized economy has an annual gross domestic product of about $100 billion.

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