Ecuador presidential election: conflicting exit polls signal tight finish

Ruling partys Lenin Moreno and rightwing Guillermo Lasso appear to be neck and neck, with fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on the line

Ecuador looked set for a tense presidential vote count on Sunday night as exit polls gave conflicting forecasts of a closely fought election that could decide the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The ruling partys Lenin Moreno was narrowly ahead of his right wing rival Guillermo Lasso, according to a survey by Perfiles y Opinion which gave the left-wing candidate 52.2% compared to 47.8% for his opponent. However, a different polling firm, Cedatos, switched their positions, putting Lasso ahead on 53% with Moreno trailing on 47%.

The uncertainty looked set to linger through the night as votes were counted in polling stations from the Amazon and the Andes to the Pacific coast and the Galapagos Islands.

For the countrys 15 million inhabitants, what is at stake is whether to continue the redistributive policies of the ruling party, which won the previous three elections under Rafael Correa, reduced poverty and improved access to education and healthcare, but has also been criticised for media censorship, corruption and abandoning many of its environmental promises.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Ecuadorean presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso speaks to supporters in a hotel in Guayaquil. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

The alternative offered by Lasso was a pro-business, pro-austerity programme that promised tax cuts and more jobs, though Lasso was plagued with accusations of tax avoidance through dozens of offshore accounts.

He also promised to ask Assange to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London within a month of securing a mandate because he said the asylum granted to the WikiLeaks founder was posing a burden on the countrys taxpayers. Assange is reportedly sufficiently concerned to have instructed lawyers in Quito in case Lasso wins.

The election will also have regional ramifications. Should Moreno win, it will cement Ecuadors reputation as a bastion of the left in Latin America. Should he lose, it will be taken as another sign of the regions retreating pink wave, following defeats for the left in an Argentinian election and a Bolivian referendum, plus the impeachment and ousting of Workers party president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.

With the stakes high in Ecuador, there were accusations of vote-rigging and other dubious practices during the first round, which was delayed because the result was close, though independent observers from the Union of South American Nations said there was no evidence of fraud and praised the election process as transparent.

The foreign minister, Guillaume Long, urged all involved not to discredit the process for political reasons. Its important that all sides accept the results that will be issued by the electoral authorities and show their democratic commitment without throwing around other false allegations or claiming that any defeat is due to irregularities, he told the Guardian.

Earlier in the day, Moreno voted at a polling station in the middle-class Rumipampa neighbourhood of Quito, while his supporters gathered outside chanting: You can see it, you can feel it, Lenin president.

Moreno, who uses a wheelchair, called for the election to be peaceful process. Let the people make their decision, he said.

As police formed a cordon to hold back the throng, voters many of them supporters of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso protested that they could not enter the polling station to vote, as Moreno sympathisers jeered.

I voted for Lasso, I voted for a change, Maria Jose Maldonado, 33, a business administrator told the Guardian. We dont want a dictatorship we dont want our freedom taken away, we dont want to be like Venezuela, she said, alluding to the move by the supreme court in Caracas to take over legislative powers in the opposition-controlled Venezuelan congress last week.

Casting his vote in Ecuadors port city of Guayaquil, former bank boss Lasso said: This is a crucial day, this isnt any election, here theres a path; theres a path to Venezuela or a path to democracy and freedom.

At the polling station in Quito where Moreno voted, Nora Molina, 57, said she voted for him because we have made a lot of progress in the last 10 years and we want it to continue.

Voting with her young children, Patricia Romero, 37, said she backed Moreno: I would like him to continue with the revolution which has helped us and he is genuinely concerned for the people.

Supporters of government candidate Lenin Moreno on the streets in Quito.
Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters
On the other hand, Carlos Muso, a 54-year-old taxi driver, said he had opted for Lasso because he would favour small businesses like his. We need a change. Lasso is the best opportunity we have. We need a boost for the private sector, lots of companies have had to close and thats no good.

Morenos supporters, draped in lime-green colours of the Alianza Pas coalition, marked the occasion with music on a stage erected on a main avenue the headquarters in Quito.

Lassos supporters had their own festivities in the port city of Guayaquil, where he voted, while hundreds more massed outside the countrys electoral board headquarters awaiting the final results.

While Lasso tweeted: Democracy has won, freedom has won in Ecuador, Correa, the outgoing president, used Twitter to call for calm and await the official results as two exit polls have given absolutely contradictory results. Someone lies, Correa tweeted.

It is the tightest race in living memory, said Santiago Basabe, a political scientist with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences. I dont think weve ever had such a close election, so hard-fought with such a high level of uncertainty among the population, he said.

The voter indecision is because the candidates lack the charisma and conviction of Correa, said Hernan Reyes, a political scientist at Quitos Simon Bolivar Andean University.

Neither candidate generated any kind of passion of the kind the Ecuadorean voter is used to, he said.

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