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Tension mounts as Ecuador poll is too close to call

Ecuador will have to wait until later this week for the result of Sunday’s presidential election after the country’s electoral council deemed the vote too close to call following a knife-edge poll.

It was the first time in recent memory that the winner has not been declared on election night.

Lenín Boltaire Moreno, the leftwing protégé of President Rafael Correa, is in touching distance of the 40 per cent needed to avoid a second round run-off in April. With 93.5 per cent of the ballots counted on Tuesday, Mr Moreno had won 39.1 per cent of the vote. Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker, was on 28.4 per cent

On Monday Ecuador’s electoral council said the full picture would not emerge for three days, in part because of the challenge of counting votes from remote areas and those from expatriates, as well as some inconsistencies in certain electoral records.

“We are peacefully for waiting the results,” Mr Moreno said on Monday. “If there is a second round, the Ecuadorean people will make the final decision.”

The delay angered opposition supporters and prompted pockets of protest outside the electoral council’s headquarters in Quito. Some frustrated citizens said they were holding a vigil to safeguard their votes, saying they suspected fraud.

“Ecuadoreans have taken to the streets to defend democracy,” Mr Lasso said. “That it takes them three days to give the final results is an attempt of fraud which we are not going to allow.”

Meanwhile, Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s foreign minister, said in a tweet: “Let’s wait for the results with patience and responsibility.”

If voters from the divided opposition rally behind Mr Lasso in a run-off poll, on April 2, they could keep Mr Moreno out of office. That would effectively end Mr Correa’s socialist revolution, dealing another blow to the South American left which has been in retreat in the past few years.

Populist governments have been ousted in Argentina and Brazil, Bolivians have rejected a proposal to allow President Evo Morales to run again and Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro is facing mounting discontent. A victory for Mr Moreno could buck the trend, keeping Mr Correa’s socialist policies in place and cementing his legacy in a more conciliatory manner.

Mr Correa, a US-trained economist who has been president of Ecuador for a decade, rode high on the last oil boom bringing political stability and economic growth to the once-volatile Opec nation.

People hold signs reading ‘No to fraud’ and ‘Run-off now’ as they protest near the electoral council © Reuters

In the decade before Mr Correa won, Ecuador had seven presidents, three of them ousted after popular revolts. Under Mr Correa, who is legally barred from a further consecutive term, Ecuador’s economy doubled in size while the poverty rate fell. But a period of prolonged depressed oil prices has precipitated an economic downturn, a rise in underemployment and allegations of corruption and overspending.

The president, who gave shelter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy, has been criticised for attacking the press and behaving in an autocratic manner.

Mr Correa has pledged to move to Belgium when he stands down, but he enjoys high approval ratings at home and could remain the most powerful Ecuadorean since the late free-market, gun-wielding caudillo León Febres Cordero, one of his ideological adversaries. Cordero ruled in the 1980s and died in 2008, a year after Mr Correa took office.

Mr Correa has left many wondering if he plans a comeback after his replacement’s four-year term.

Via FT