Ecuador’s leftist government candidate Lenin Moreno looks set for victory in a presidential election, but slow results mean it may take days to know if he will face a run-off with former banker Guillermo Lasso.
In a nail-biter vote with eight candidates at the weekend, Moreno was close to the threshold needed to avoid a second round on April 2 and continue a decade-long period of leftist rule, just as South America is moving to the right.
Lasso has vowed to remove Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy in London and denounce Venezuela’s Socialist government.
Moreno has said Assange can stay in the embassy, but warned on Monday he would ask him “not to intervene in the politics of countries that are friends of Ecuador.”
While Ecuadoreans are angry over an economic downturn and corruption scandals, the opposition split its votes among candidates and the ruling Country Alliance remains popular with many poor voters thanks to social welfare programs.
As results trickled in on Monday from Ecuador’s Andes, jungle, and Pacific coast, Moreno, a disabled former vice president, was just short of the 40 per cent of votes and a 10-percentage-point difference over his nearest rival to win outright.
He had 39.12 per cent of valid votes versus 28.30 per cent for Lasso, with 88.5 per cent of votes counted, the official preliminary election count showed on Monday morning.
The electoral council said final results would only be ready in three days as votes trickle in from isolated areas and Ecuadoreans abroad, bureaucratic delays and “inconsistencies” in some ballots.
“How can they take three days to count 12 per cent?” said Lasso, 61.
“We’re not going to allow fraud… If they toy with the results, we’ll take to the streets,” he added.
Outgoing President Rafael Correa was one of the key figures in Latin America’s leftist axis that includes Caracas and Havana. He brought stability to the politically turbulent OPEC country but has aggravated many with his confrontational style.
The next president faces strong pressure to create jobs and crack down on graft, amid corruption scandals at state-run oil company Petroecuador and Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht .
Lasso has campaigned on a platform to revive the economy, which is dependent on exports of oil, flowers and shrimp, by slashing taxes, fostering foreign investment and creating a million jobs in four years.
But Lasso has also alienated some voters who deem him a stuffy elitist linked to the 1999 financial crisis when hundreds of thousands lost their savings.
Moreno, who lost the use of his legs two decades ago after being shot during a robbery, has a more conciliatory style than the pugnacious Correa and has promised benefits for the disabled, single mothers and the elderly.
Critics say Moreno is woefully ill-equipped to overhaul an ailing economy hit by low oil prices, steep debts, and a stronger US dollar that has hurt exports.