QUITO, Ecuador – Leftist economist Andrés Arauz led the first round of presidential elections in Ecuador on Sunday. Voters will head to the polls in April for a second round of voting after a crowded field of 16 presidential hopefuls were unable to reach the necessary 40 percent threshold for an outright victory.
Arauz led the count with a little over 32 percent of votes. He represents the Union of Hope leftist coalition of parties, and is a protege of former President Rafael Correa, who has since been banned from political participation in Ecuador and faces an eight years in prison if he comes home for accepting bribes from private companies for state contracts. Correa currently lives in exile in Belgium.
Arauz’s main challengers are Yaku Pérez, running for the Indigenous party Pachakutik, and conservative Guayaquil banker Guillermo Lasso for Creating Opportunities (CREO).
By early Monday, some 97 percent of the vote had been counted but who came second and third had not yet been called by election officials. Only the candidate in second place will go up against Arauz in the next round of voting.
Results on Monday morning had stalled, but Pérez’s lead has gradually grown with nearly 18,500 votes ahead of Lasso. Exit polls had initially shown Lasso as runner-up after polls closed.
While Arauz awaits news of who his contender will be, Pérez – who surpassed expectations at the polls – claimed he had acquired enough votes to go against Arauz in the next round. He marched to the electoral institution with his supporters in Quito on Sunday evening, demanding officials be transparent about the results.
“If necessary, we will sleep outside the CNE tonight to ensure the decision of Ecuadorians is respected,” said Pérez on social media.
If he proceeds to the next round, voters will choose between two opponents representing the left.
During his campaign Pérez appealed to young voters via social media sites like Tik Tok and Instagram, frequently appearing alongside his partner Manuela Picq. In 2015, Correa’s government revoked Picq’s visa and was later deported after her arrest at an Indigenous march in Quito.
His campaign appealed to fragmented parts of the Ecuadorian left, according to Paola Lozada, an associate professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador.
“He’s capitalized on anti-Correa sentiment around the country and is attractive to those who seek alternative ideas in government,” said Lozada.
Pérez has also been a fierce opponent of Correa’s policies of exploiting natural resources.
The combination of Ecuador’s right underperforming in the elections and an anti-Correa voting bloc on the left could inhibit a straight path to victory for Arauz in the runoff.
Lasso remained optimistic following the results of the quick count.
“Be assured – we will be in the second round,” he told his followers via Twitter.
The conservative candidate has promised an increase in the monthly minimum wage, as well as COVID vaccines for all. But many associate the three-time presidential candidate as a powerful elitist responsible for a banking crisis that happened over two decades ago.
“During one of the worst economic crises in our history, Lasso was the Minister of Finance during the government of [former President] Jamil Mahuad, and he looked out for the powerful groups in the country,” said Jimena Guerra, a 31-year-old tour guide who voted for Arauz.
Lasso’s sluggish support is due to many voters in Ecuador uninterested in right-wing candidates using popular leftists rhetoric to win elections, who are then quick to backtrack in office. It’s an important factor behind why all three of the top four leaders in the results are leftwing, according to Lozada.
Current President Moreno, a former Correa ally elected in 2017, quickly reversed from his campaign platform of social equality policies found under Correa and later implemented market reforms and engaged in a closer relationship with the International Monetary Fund.
Ecuador currently faces a challenging economic panorama that was exacerbated by low oil exports and the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-related deaths surpassed 15,000 deaths at the weekend.
Moreno is not seeking another term amidst one of the lowest approval ratings of any leader in the region, and has promised to respect the outcome of the election. The winner of the April 11 runoff will assume the presidency on May 24.