Ecuador is heading to a runoff presidential election in April after a young leftwing candidate won a first-round victory on Sunday, following years of austerity measures made more painful by the pandemic.
Andrés Arauz , a 36-year-old protege of former president Rafael Correa, will advance to the 11 April runoff, but it was still too close to call whether he would face the environmental activist Yaku Pérez or conservative banker Guillermo Lasso.
The surprisingly strong showing by Pérez, who is running on a platform of banning industrial mining, shakes up an election that has so far been defined by dueling ideologies of social welfare versus free markets.
According to a quick count by the National Electoral Council Arauz took 31.5% of the vote, Pérez 20.04% and Lasso 19.97%. The count was based on some 2,400 poll statements from a representative sample of voting centers.
Shortly after the announcement, Pérez told reporters that he had won enough votes to enter the second round, and said he was holding a vigil outside the election council’s headquarters in Quito to prevent vote manipulation.
“We’ve come with a plan to hold a vigil, in an active and respectful manner, but to defend the will of the vast majority of Ecuadorians who see hope for a change,” said Pérez.
Lasso led a celebratory rally from the country’s biggest city, Guayaquil, where supporters shouted “Second round” and “Lasso president.”.
“When we see 100% of the poll statements reviewed, it will be reconfirmed that we are in the second round,” Lasso said.
The outgoing president, Lenín Moreno, drove a pro-market agenda in hopes of reviving a sluggish and heavily indebted economy. His efforts sparked an angry backlash, with a proposed fuel hike leading to violent street protests in 2019.
He also was initially an ally of Correa but he turned on his predecessor, who had governed Ecuador for a decade and whose criminal conviction blocked him from seeking the vice-presidency this year.
To avoid the 11 April runoff, Arauz needed more than 50% of valid votes, or 40% total with 10 percentage points more than the runner-up.
A brutal coronavirus outbreak last year left bodies uncollected on the streets of Guayaquil.
Lockdowns around the world slashed fuel demand and prices for oil, Ecuador’s main export, battering an economy also reeling from sharp cuts to government spending.