Lenín Boltaire Moreno is in the lead after Sunday’s nail-biting presidential election in Ecuador. The anointed candidate of leftwing President Rafael Correa was close to the margin needed to avoid a second round against Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker, in a test for Latin America’s battered left.
After a campaign that underlined the divisive legacy of Mr Correa, the US-trained economist who has been in power for a decade, official results showed that his protégé had beaten Mr Lasso. To win outright, he needs to secure at least 40 per cent of the vote and maintain a 10-point lead over Mr Lasso.
With over 86 per cent of votes counted, Mr Moreno led with 39.1 per cent, while Mr Lasso had 28.3 per cent. Trailing behind was Cynthia Viteri, a former centre-right lawmaker, with 16.4 per cent of the polls. Paco Moncayo, a left-leaning former mayor of Quito, held 6.7 per cent. Final results are expected later on Monday.
“We remain firm,” Mr Moreno said as the count continued. “This is a long-haul fight. We will win this battle.”
In the event of a run-off, combined opposition votes could trounce Mr Moreno’s chances, ending Mr Correa’s “Citizen’s Revolution” while further loosening the grip of leftwing governments in the region.
Mr Correa rode high on the last oil boom, bringing political stability and economic growth to the once-volatile Opec nation
But the end of the commodity’s surge brought an economic downturn, a rise in unemployment and allegations of corruption. Moreover, Mr Correa’s mercurial style — attacking foes on national television and using the media as a whipping boy — enraged many Ecuadoreans and tarnished his achievements.
Simón Pachano, a Quito-based analyst, said Sunday’s election represented “the anti-Correa against Correa”.
Although more conciliatory in style, Mr Moreno, a disabled former deputy president, was seen by many voters as a proxy candidate, winning support as he vowed to follow the populist policies of Mr Correa. “He means continuity for all the great things of this revolution,” commented Julia Gutiérrez, a retired professor.
A victory for the leftwing Mr Moreno “would mean just a continuation of the status quo”, according to Oxford Economics, and would cement Mr Correa’s legacy — but in a more emollient manner. Political foes accuse Mr Correa of being a thin-skinned bully who “spurts hatred”, in a manner akin to that of Donald Trump, the US president.
Some also complain about growing levels of indebtedness. Since Mr Correa voluntarily defaulted on $3.2bn in bonds in 2008, China has been the country’s top lender. Ecuador returned to the markets in 2014 while Beijing is still owed more than $8bn by Quito, according to the Guayaquil-based economist, Alberto Acosta-Burneo.
A victory for the free-marketer Mr Lasso — who says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would be “cordially” given a month to leave Ecuador’s embassy in London — would add to broader regional changes after the removal of a populist leftist government in Brazil, and the rise of business-friendly presidents in Argentina and Peru.
The 61-year-old banker told the Financial Times that, like many fellow Ecuadoreans, “I am also tired of politicians. That’s why I decided to govern.”
Mr Correa has pledged to move to Belgium after leaving the presidency. But he enjoys 60 per cent approval ratings and could remain the most powerful Ecuadorean since the late free-market, gun-wielding caudillo, León Febres Cordero, one of his ideological adversaries who ruled in the 1980s and died in 2008, a year after Mr Correa took office.
But Mr Correa has left critics guessing whether he will attempt a comeback after Mr Moreno’s four-year term, in a style similar to Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s return. He has warned his political enemies not to tamper with his legacy: “Hopefully they won’t make me come back. If there’s persecution, they will have me here in 2021.”
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