Ecuador’s president-elect Lasso promises ‘better days are coming’

Conservative former banker Guillermo Lasso won a surprise victory in polls that came amid COVID and economic crises.

Ecuadorian banker Guillermo Lasso reacts after his victory in the presidential runoff, in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 11 [Maria Fernanda Landin/Reuters]

Ecuador’s new president-elect Guillermo Lasso has promised to unite the country, hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and a related economic crisis, just hours after the conservative former banker won an unexpected victory at the polls.

With 96.35 percent of votes counted by Monday morning, Lasso held a lead of almost five percentage points over left-wing economist Andres Arauz, who conceded the night before.

Lasso, who had finished second in the first round of voting in February, pledged to speed up coronavirus vaccinations in Ecuador and secure more foreign investments to jump-start the struggling economy.

Lasso had 52.42 percent of the vote compared with Arauz’s 47.58 per cent, the National Electoral Council (CNE) said.

“We will work together from now on for true change,” Lasso tweeted on Monday morning, pledging to be a president for all 17 million Ecuadorians.

“Today we woke up in peace and with the certainty that better days are coming for everyone.”

Arauz, considered the frontrunner for much of the campaign, on Monday morning called for “peace and reconciliation”.

“The political persecution must end, we must treat each other as adversaries and not as enemies,” Arauz, a protégé of former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, wrote on Twitter.

Lasso, who will be sworn in as president on May 24, takes over a country that has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, which has worsened Ecuador’s existing economic woes. The economy shrank by 7.8 percent last year.

He also faces another challenge, with Arauz’s leftist Union of Hope coalition holding the largest bloc in parliament.

“There will be permanent tension with the executive. There’s almost no chance of the reforms the country needs,” Pablo Romero, an analyst at Salesiana University, told the AFP news agency.

Ecuador’s slow COVID-19 vaccine roll-out has also been a source of public frustration, especially after it was revealed that individuals had used personal connections to jump the queue to receive jabs.

The country has recorded over 346,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 17,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

Many Ecuadorian voters said they were frustrated by the choices on the ballot on Sunday, and analysts had said they expected many to spoil their votes.

Yaku Perez, an Indigenous and environmental activist who finished third in the first round of the presidential election, had said he planned to spoil his ballot as an act of protest against Arauz and Lasso.

“I hope he keeps his promise of creating jobs, because seven in 10 Ecuadoreans want formal employment,” Juan Pablo Hidalgo, a 33-year-old neighbourhood activist in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s a moment in which we should all be united.”

Several regional leaders congratulated Lasso on his victory on Monday, including Luis Abinader, president of the Dominican Republic, Panamanian President Nito Cortizo, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and Ivan Duque, president of Colombia.

Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, also congratulated Lasso on his victory and Arauz for his respect of democratic institutions.

A newspaper with a picture of presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso is seen in Quito, Ecuador on April 12 [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies