Former banker makes second round of Ecuador’s presidential vote

Conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso has squeezed through to the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election at the expense of indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez, the country’s electoral authority said on Sunday.

Lasso, a millionaire former banker, will face leftwing economist Andrés Arauz in the run-off on April 11 to decide who will govern the country for the next four years. The winner will inherit a nation that has been hit hard by coronavirus: Ecuador has a yawning fiscal deficit and is struggling to meet the terms of a $6.5bn lending programme with the IMF.

Arauz, who has the backing of the country’s former president Rafael Correa, took 32.72 per cent of the first-round vote, the National Electoral Committee (CNE) said in a statement. Lasso took 19.74 per cent to Pérez’s 19.39 per cent — a difference of fewer than 33,000 votes, or 0.3 per cent of the 10.6m votes cast.

The announcement is likely to inflame Pérez’s supporters, who have alleged fraud in the counting process. “We’re preparing a report that shows that the results from the certificates that came from the polling stations simply don’t match those that they [the CNE] have given,” one official from Pérez’s leftist indigenous party Pachakutik told the Financial Times. “There was fraud.”

The vote was held on February 7. That evening the CNE released partial results showing Pérez was ahead of Lasso. Over the following two days his lead increased to about 50,000 votes but then the trend reversed and Lasso edged ahead, prompting small indigenous protests in some parts of the country.

“For now the protests are peaceful, but if they don’t confirm Yaku in the second round things will change,” one woman, María Morocho, told the FT during a protest outside the CNE’s regional headquarters in Guayaquil in the days after the election.

Arauz, who at 36 is aiming to become the youngest president in Ecuador’s history, welcomed the official results but at a news conference on Sunday he accused Ecuador’s public prosecutors’ office of interfering in the electoral process with the aim of postponing the second round.

He urged the international community to be alert to what he described as “a concrete threat” designed to keep incumbent president Lenín Moreno in power past his mandate, due to end on May 24.

Arauz also confirmed that in the weeks since the vote, he had been to Washington to meet officials from the Fund. “The IMF listened to our proposals, we discussed them and we found we had many points in common,” he said. “So, we’re optimistic about what we can achieve in terms of international relations with trading partners and financial partners from around the world.”

During the campaign, Arauz said he would try to renegotiate the agreement, which calls for a hefty fiscal adjustment through a combination of tax reform and spending cuts. Even Lasso, the most economically orthodox of the candidates, says he cannot endorse the tax rises the Fund advocates.

Lasso welcomed Sunday’s results announcement and said he was heading in to the second round “with courage and optimism”. 

To beat Arauz, he needs to make up a shortfall of 1.2m votes and, after the bitterness of the first round, he is likely to struggle to win over Pérez’s disgruntled indigenous supporters.

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