QUITO Leftist government candidate Lenin Moreno claimed victory in Ecuador’s presidential vote on Sunday, bucking a shift to the right in South America, but the conservative challenger asked for a recount as his supporters took to the streets in protest.
A Moreno win would come as a relief for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after Guillermo Lasso vowed to remove him from the Ecuadorean embassy in London if he won the runoff.
It would also give a boost to a struggling leftist movement in South America, as right-leaning governments have come to power in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru recently as a commodities boom ended, economies flagged and corruption scandals grew.
The region’s de facto leftist leader, President Nicolas Maduro of crisis-hit Venezuela, profusely tweeted his congratulations to Moreno. Lasso, a former banker, had promised to denounce the embattled Maduro, who foes say lurched the country toward dictatorship this week.
Moreno, a paraplegic former vice-president, had secured 51.1 percent of the votes compared to Lasso’s 48.9 percent, with just over 95 percent of votes counted, according to the electoral council. It has not yet declared a winner.
A bitter Lasso, who had earlier proclaimed himself victorious based on a top pollster’s exit poll, disputed the results that would extend a decade-long leftist rule in oil-rich Ecuador.
“They’ve crossed a line,” he told supporters amassed in a hotel in his coastal hometown of Guayaquil, asking for a recount and vowing to challenge the results.
“We’re going to defend the will of the Ecuadorean people in the face of this fraud attempt.”
Lasso contrasted Sunday’s fast results with the first round of the election in February, when a final tally took days to come out and his supporters gathered in front of the electoral council to guard against what they said were fraud attempts.
Hundreds of Lasso supporters again swarmed in front of the electoral council offices in capital Quito and Guayaquil, waving yellow, blue and red Ecuadorean flags and chanting “No to fraud!” and “We don’t want to be Venezuela!”
Police in Guayaquil used tear gas against supporters who were trying to break through a security cordon to the electoral council office there, according to a Reuters witness.
Moreno, who has been in a wheelchair since losing the use of his legs two decades ago after being shot during a robbery, would become one of the world’s rare presidents to use a wheelchair if he takes office on May 24.
“Lenin,” as he is commonly referred to by his supporters, was already celebrating in mountainous Quito on Sunday night.
“From now on, let’s work for the country! All of us!” he told flag-waving supporters, flanked by running mate and current vice-president, Jorge Glas, and a beaming outgoing President Rafael Correa, before breaking into several songs.
A former U.N. envoy on disability, Moreno has a more conciliatory style than fiery Correa and has promised benefits for single mothers, the elderly, and disabled Ecuadoreans.
He would face strong pressure to create jobs amid an economic downturn and crack down on graft amid corruption scandals at state-run oil company PetroEcuador and Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht.
Lasso has criticized Moreno as ill-equipped on the economic front and warned his major social promises would hit already pressured coffers in the country dependent on exports of oil, bananas, and shrimp.
Moreno’s supporters, in turn, have decried Lasso’s plans, warning that he would slash welfare benefits and govern for the rich across a nation that stretches from Andean plateaus to the Galapagos Islands.
The ruling Country Alliance on Sunday said results were irreversible.
“The revolution has triumphed again in Ecuador,” tweeted Correa, who has said he will move to Belgium, where his wife is from, when he leaves office. “The right has lost, despite its millions and its media.”
(Additional reporting by Yury Garcia, Daniel Tapia, and Henry Romero in Guayaquil and Jose Llangari and Marian Bazo in Quito; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Girish Gupta and Mary Milliken)