Ecuadorean economist Andres Arauz won the first round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, bringing the Andean nation a step closer to ending years of painful austerity made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 36-year-old protege of former President Rafael Correa advances to an April 11 runoff, but it was still too close to call whether he would face environmental activist Yaku Perez or conservative banker Guillermo Lasso.
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The surprisingly strong showing by Perez, who is running on a platform of banning industrial mining, shakes up an election that has so far been defined by duelling ideologies of social welfare versus free markets.
National Electoral Council Diana Atamaint said the quick count showed Arauz with 31.5 percent of the vote, Perez with 20.04 percent and Lasso with 19.97 percent. The count was based on some 2,400 poll statements from a representative sample of voting centres.
But the council’s website as of 10pm local time (03:00 GMT) showed that it had only processed about 17 percent of the votes.
Shortly after the announcement, Perez 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 Ecuadoreans who see hope for a change,” said Perez.
Lasso led a celebratory rally from the country’s biggest city, Guayaquil, where supporters shouted “Second round” and “Lasso president.”
“When we see 100 percent of the poll statements reviewed, it will be reconfirmed that we are in the second round,” Lasso said.
President Lenin Moreno, a former Correa ally, 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.
Moreno, who took office in 2017, did not seek a second term.
To avoid the April 11 runoff, Arauz needed more than 50 percent of valid votes, or 40 percent with 10 percentage points more than the runner-up.
The severity of the coronavirus outbreak left bodies uncollected on the streets of Guayaquil last year, while lockdowns imposed by other countries to tackle the disease have slashed demand and prices for oil, Ecuador’s main export.