QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s nail-biter election is heading to a runoff after results showed ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno falling just shy of the votes needed to clench a first-round victory, officials said Tuesday.
With nearly 95 percent of all votes officially tallied, the outcome is irreversible, the National Electoral Council said.
The results ended two days of suspense as supporters of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso took to the streets to protest what they said was an attempt at fraud to favor Moreno, President Rafael Correa’s hand-picked candidate to succeed him.
The Andean country will hold a second-round of voting April 2, an election that will be closely watched in Latin America as Moreno faces off against Lasso, a conservative former banker. The region has shifted to the right over the last 18 months as conservatives won power in Argentina, Brazil and Peru after the end of a commodities boom that had boosted leftists like Correa.
Moreno got slightly more than 39 percent of all votes in Sunday’s election, while Lasso trailed by nearly 11 points at 28 percent, officials said. Moreno had needed to hold a 10-point lead and have 40 percent of the votes to win outright.
Moreno will likely encounter a more challenging race in the weeks ahead as opposition candidates consolidate their support around Lasso.
Several losing candidates who shared Lasso’s conservative agenda and fatigue with Correa’s iron-fisted rule have already thrown their support behind Lasso for the second round, including former congresswoman Cynthia Viteri, who finished third with more than 16 percent. Former Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo, the only leftist among the seven trailing candidates, said he wouldn’t ask the 7 percent of voters who backed him to vote for either candidate in the runoff.
“Most opposition voters will probably end up supporting Lasso in a head-to-head contest focused on change versus continuity,” the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, wrote in an analysis.
The analysts speculated that the delay in announcing the vote result would help unify opposition support for Lasso.
The slow result announcement was the first time in recent memory that Ecuadorean authorities had not declared a winner on election night. Lasso’s supporters gathered in the streets in front of the National Electoral Council overnight Sunday and Monday to demand that a runoff be confirmed.
“You went out on the streets to defend your will,” Lasso said.
Lasso’s side has not presented any evidence of irregularities. Juan Pablo Pozo Bahamonde, president of the electoral council, said no formal complaints had been filed with the National Electoral Council.
Throughout the prolonged vote count, electoral authorities appealed for calm, saying it could take until Wednesday to know if a runoff would be necessary. They said the delay was due to the slow arrival of ballots cast in remote rural regions and consulates abroad as well as inconsistencies on tally sheets that needed to be sorted through.
A self-declared “21st century socialist,” Correa was elected president in 2007 and he won praise for ushering in stability for Ecuador after a severe economic crisis that saw three presidents toppled by street protests and the adoption of the U.S. dollar to control rampant inflation.
But Correa also drew criticism for his iron-fisted approach against much of the press, opposition and judiciary.
The sheen on his administration also has been tarnished as once-flush government budgets were cut and thousands of employees at state-run companies laid off amid a decline in oil revenues for the OPEC nation. The International Monetary Fund has forecast Ecuador’s economy to shrink 2.7 percent this year and many analysts predict that Correa’s successor will have to seek a bailout from the multilateral lender.
The election results in April will be seen as a check on Correa’s legacy, as voters decide whether to continue his “Citizens’ Revolution” or opt for change.
Those results could also decidel whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be able to stay at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Moreno has indicated he would back Assange’s continued stay, while Lasso has indicated he would evict the Australian activist within 30 days of taking office.
Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.
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