December 14, 2017
Friday, April 7, 2017

Ecuador’s president-elect Moreno boosts fortunes for LatAm’s left

Former Alianza País vice-president edges out Guillermo Lasso in runoff

Lenín Moreno, representing the ruling Alianza País, has been declared president-elect of Ecuador by the national electoral council (CNE) after last week’s runoff against Guillermo Lasso (CREO), bolstering the fortunes for the region’s left wing and sparking a challenge from the conservative candidate who has promised to legally change the result.

According to the CNE, Moreno pocketed 51.16 percent of valid votes versus 48.84 percent for conservative challenger Lasso, with 99.65 percent of votes counted. The Sunday runoff between the two men was necessary after Moreno failed to clinch the 40 percent of valid votes and a 10 percentage-point difference over his nearest rival to win outright in the first round of voting in February. Lasso won 28.1 percent of the vote in the first round, and he was counting on the supporters of defeated candidates to rally toward CREO in order to win the runoff.

Moreno is thus set to replace President Rafael Correa by the end of May as president of Ecuador.

The results are “irreversible,” electoral council president Juan Pablo Pozo said, adding there was no indication of fraud. “Ecuador has chosen freely,” he said in a televised speech.

Still, Lasso has said he will challenge the results and some of his supporters were protesting by honking horns and waving yellow-blue-and-red Ecuadorean flags in the Andean capital Quito on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the government said that it would also seek an audit of the results to make sure nothing untoward had taken place.

The Organisation of American States, which had an observer mission in Ecuador, said on Monday it had seen “no discrepancies” between results collected by its observers at pollingstations and official results.

Moreno, a former United Nations special envoy on disability and accessibility, has a more conciliatory style than the fiery Correa and has promised to reach out to opponents and business sectors. The president-elect, who lost the use of his legs two decades ago when he was shot during a robbery, will become a rare head of state to use a wheelchair when he takes office next month.

“Lenín” as he is commonly referred to by his supporters, celebrated in mountainous Quito on Sunday night with the flag-waving crowd chanting, “Lenín President!”

“We’re going to keep building the path, we’ve done a lot but there’s a lot more to do!‘ he said, flanked by running mate and current vice-president, Jorge Glas, as well as outgoing President Rafael Correa. They broke into several songs, including one about Argentine revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Boost for the left

Moreno’s triumph was a boost for the struggling leftist movement in South America after right-leaning governments recently came to power in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru as a commodities boom ended, economies flagged and corruption scandals grew.

The region’s high-profile Socialist leader, President Nicolas Maduro of crisis-hit Venezuela, congratulated Moreno profusely on Twitter, as did Bolivian President Evo Morales.

“Congratulations, Ecuador, the citizen’s revolution has triumphed!” said Maduro, who was echoed by much of his Cabinet.

“21st century Socialism always triumphs,” tweeted Morales. “Congratulations brother @Lenin!”

First elected as Correa’s vice-president in 2007 and serving through 2013, Moreno took on the mantle of the Alianza PAÍS candidate last year as a clear symbol of continuity with Correa’s government and its policies. He will now be at the forefront of the Revolución Ciudadana “Citizens’ Revolution” that Correa started when he rose to power. In light of the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, Moreno told the foreign press this week that he favours negotiations between the government and the opposition and that he was respectful of the “self-determination” of each country. Other countries in the region have not hesitated to label recent events as a breakdown in the constitutional order.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, no political friend to the so-called Bolivarian left, congratulated Moreno on the election results and expressed his best wishes for future work. Subsequently, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement which highlighted that “Argentina wishes to underscore the democratic maturity and the civic spirit displayed by the Ecuadorean people, which has peacefully headed to the ballots to express their political will.”

Lasso had promised to denounce the embattled Maduro, who foes say has turned his country into a dictatorship, and has portrayed himself as antithetical to Bolivarian politics.

Recently Argentina and Brazil have swerved away from the left as a China-led commodities boom ended. In Peru, a centre-right technocrat in Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has been elected after the decline in fortunes of the seemingly left-leaning Ollanta Humala and Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist, has dismal approval ratings and former centre-right president Sebastián Piñera is in contention to replace her in elections that will take place at the end of this year.

Challenge on the cards

Lasso, who had proclaimed himself victorious based on a exit poll, disputed the close results that would extend a decade-long leftist rule in oil-rich Ecuador.

“I’m warning the world that in Ecuador procedures are being violated, and they’re trying to swear in an illegitimate government on May 24,” he said on Monday. “This is a clumsy fraud attempt.”

Lasso tweeted photos showing what he said were original votes for him that were changed by electoral officials and on Monday presented his complaint to the Organisation of American States, which has an observation mission in Ecuador.

But the OAS later said in a statement it had seen “no discrepancies” between results collected by its observers at polling stations and official results. And the election authority denied fraud allegations.

Lasso has said his campaign for the presidency of Ecuador detected irregularities at almost 2,000 polling booths where his opponent handily won in Sunday’s presidential runoff. Lasso, in a press conference Wednesday, presented the strongest argument yet backing up his claims that ruling-party candidate Lenín Moreno won the election through fraud.

The Lasso campaign said that it detected irregularities such as missing signatures, inverted results and incorrect tallies at 1,795 of the almost 40,000 voting acts processed nationwide. Those polling-places together represent about 600,000 votes, more than double Moreno’s margin of victory. It presented three such examples and said it would dispute results at the voting centre, some of which Moreno won by a 4-to-1 margin.

“Without a doubt there was fraud,” Lasso said, standing before boxes of voting acts he said were scanned by campaign poll observers on election night and will form the basis of their challenge.

Moreno responded by saying that “in politics, as in other activities, one has to be humble in victory. I ask that the candidate Lasso lose with dignity.”

Hundreds of Lasso supporters gathered Tuesday night outside the National Electoral Council’s headquarters in Quito for the third straight night of mostly peaceful protests that contrasted with the more unruly behaviour seen on election night, when supporters crashed through metal barricades in Quito and scuffled with riot police in several cities.

Electoral authorities said if necessary they will recount votes at polling centre s where results are formally challenged, and dismissed as “slanderous” accusations of discrepancies between what poll observers witnessed and the voting acts uploaded to the National Electoral Council’s system.

“Some political actors are talking of fraud, but if there was any, it was moral fraud due to so much lying,” said National Electoral Council President Juan Pablo Pozo.

Authorities have 10 days to resolve any disputes. Amid the continued uncertainty, Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement Wednesday calling for calm and unity, saying that the country’s peacefulness is in danger.

Herald staff with AP, Reuters

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