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Leftist hopes to avoid runoff in tense Ecuador vote

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Quito (AFP) – Leftist Lenin Moreno crossed his fingers Monday for outright victory in Ecuador’s presidential vote as impatience grew over a delay in publishing full results that could force a runoff.

Sunday’s election was a test of the legacy of outgoing President Rafael Correa, Moreno’s more hardline ally and an outspoken critic of the United States.

Moreno, 63, hoped to top 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point lead. That would spare him a runoff that polls indicate he may well lose.

But with nearly 89 percent of the votes counted, he was still short with 39.13 percent, against 28.31 percent for his conservative competitor, Guillermo Lasso.

The president of the National Electoral Council, Juan Pablo Pozo, said it could take until Thursday for the full results to be confirmed.

Supporters of Lasso scuffled with police as they gathered outside the electoral council to demand transparency in the vote-count, with some of them alleging fraud.

Pozo urged voters to “wait peacefully for the official results, since there is a narrow margin to determine whether there will be a second round.”

– Averting suspicion –

Moreno called for his Country Alliance party to “cross our fingers” for a first-round victory.

“I like big challenges, strong challenges, and I am going to get through this one,” he said on television.

But ex-banker Lasso vowed: “We will not rest until we achieve a definitive victory for the Ecuadoran people, who want change.”

Pozo said some of the ballots were taking time to be counted due to “anomalies” such as missing signatures from polling station officials.

He said he would hold a meeting with the two candidates to explain the delay in confirming the results, “to avoid any suspicions.”

Analysts said voters fed up with Correa are likely to rally behind the conservative candidate in the second round.

“Any party could beat the governing one in the second round, because there is major resistance to, and rejection of, the government,” said political scientist Paolo Moncagatta of Quito’s San Francisco University.

– Assange –

If Moreno wins he will be the first wheelchair-user to become president in Ecuador, and one of few world leaders ever to do so.

His legs were paralyzed when he was shot in a robbery in 1998.

If ex-banker Lasso wins the presidency, another pillar of the Latin American left will swing to the right.

Lasso has also said he will end WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy.

Assange is taking refuge there for fear of extradition to the United States for publishing leaked documents that embarrassed Washington.

– Economic crossroads –

The busting of a commodities boom has hastened the end of two decades of leftist predominance in Latin America.

After Argentina, Brazil and Peru switched to conservative governments, economist Correa, 53, is now reaching the end of 10 years in power.

He initially oversaw a boom in the country of 16 million people, but the economy shrank 1.7 percent last year.

“The big factor in the vote was the economic crisis,” said Alberto Acosta-Burneo, a consultant at the Spurrier Group.

Lasso slammed Correa’s allies over alleged links to corruption. Correa blamed Lasso in part for a 1999 financial crisis when he was economy minister.

– Oil –

Voters were deciding whether to continue Correa’s tax-and-spend policies or give Lasso a mandate to cut spending and taxes.

Correa used Ecuador’s oil wealth to fund social welfare schemes and public works.

But oil prices have plunged over the past three years.

Teacher Sofia Tinajero, 32, said she ended her support for Correa’s side in this election and voted for a change.

“I have witnessed authoritarianism and a very great social decline,” she said.

But another voter, Nora Molina, 53, said “these past 10 years have shown how the country has advanced. I think we are going to keep that going.”



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