Former banker Guillermo Lasso has declared victory in the Ecuadorean presidential election, after his challenger, left-wing economist Andres Arauz, conceded defeat in a poll that took place against a COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated an already struggling economy.
Lasso said he accepted the “challenge” of governing after winning the runoff with 52.5 percent of the vote from 97 percent of the ballots had been counted, according to figures published by the National Electoral Council.
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The elections council is due to speak at 10:00pm local time (03:00 GMT).
“It’s a day in which all Ecuadoreans have decided their future, they have used their vote to express the need for change and the desire for better days,” Lasso declared at a rally where jubilant supporters chanted “Lasso President!”
Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera’s Latin America editor, said it appeared Ecuadoreans were prepared to give Lasso a “chance” after he portrayed himself as more of a “father figure” who could bring the country together.
“It was unexpected,” she said from the Chilean capital Santiago, noting that Arauz had been the frontrunner for much of the campaign. “His conservative economic policies are not that popular. But Ecuadoreans are going to give this banker and businessman a chance. He’s really going to have his work cut out for him.”
The oil-exporting nation’s economy was already weak when the coronavirus outbreak started last year, but the pandemic has pushed a third of the population of more than 17 million into poverty and left half a million people unemployed.
Austerity measures, part of a $6.5bn financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund that were imposed by President Lenin Moreno – who did not seek re-election, failed to have an effect and only caused more pain.
The election council figures show 1.6 million null votes, which were probably the result of Indigenous activist Yaku Perez calling on supporters to spoil their ballots.
Perez ran in the first-round vote in February and narrowly lost out to Lasso for a place in the runoff, which he attributed to electoral fraud despite not presenting evidence.