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Will a ‘Miami scandal’ turn the tide of Ecuador’s presidential race?

Lenin Moreno, a human rights activist and a former vice president, speaks at a rally where he was tapped as Ecuador's ruling party presidential candidate, in Quito, Ecuador, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. The elections for president and legislators are scheduled for Feb. 19, 2017.
Lenin Moreno, a human rights activist and a former vice president, speaks at a rally where he was tapped as Ecuador's ruling party presidential candidate, in Quito, Ecuador, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. The elections for president and legislators are scheduled for Feb. 19, 2017. AP

With just 10 days to go before Ecuador’s presidential elections, ruling party candidate Lenín Moreno is still leading the polls but unlikely to avoid a runoff amid a punishing corruption scandal with Miami ties.

A series of polls released this week give Moreno more than a 10-point lead over his nearest rival, banker Guillermo Lasso.

Read More: Race to replace Correa begins amid corruption scandal

A Feb. 8 poll by Quito-based CEDATOS found Moreno has 32 percent of the vote versus Lasso’s 21 percent. Former Congresswoman Cynthia Viteri and former Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo had 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Similarly, a poll by Perfiles y Opinion gives Moreno 35 percent of the vote, versus Lasso’s 16 percent, Viteri’s 14 percent and Moncayo’s 7 percent.

Those figures will be the last ones to be officially released, as the government declared a polling blackout starting Wednesday.

Read More: Ecuador’s chief of ‘good living’ tries to raise national happiness

If Moreno can win at least 40 percent of the vote and keep a 10-point lead over his nearest rival, he can avoid an April 2 runoff. But most analysts don’t think that will happen.

The desire for change after the decade-long leadership of Rafael Correa and a lingering corruption scandal are likely to keep sinking Moreno’s numbers in the waning days of the race, said New York-based Eurasia Group.

“All of this suggests that Moreno will likely fall short of the threshold needed to win in a first round, which is his best shot to win given a divided opposition field that will unify in the second round,” the political analysis firm wrote.

Correa’s one-time vice president and handpicked successor, Moreno has vowed to continue his boss’s socialist policies but without Correa’s combative style. Moreno, who has been in a wheelchair since a botched robbery in 1998, is seen as a mild-mannered antithesis of the mercurial Correa.

But Moreno is being weighed down by his running mate, Jorge Glas, Correa’s current vice president. Glas has been been under a cloud of corruption since last year, when eight former and current officials were investigated for money laundering and bribery for their roles in manipulating contracts with the state-run Petroecuador oil company.

At the time, the company was under Glas’ purview. Last week, former Petroleum Minister Carlos Pareja appeared on social media videos hooked up voluntarily to a polygraph machine and accusing Glas of knowing about Petroecuador corruption. Pareja said the video was filmed in Coral Gables, but he never provided any hard proof about his allegations.

Glas has denied the charges, saying a “corrupt” Pareja is trying to “create a circus” as the opposition has failed to get traction in the polls.

Glas and Correa are also accusing him of working with Roberto and William Isaías to try to skew the election. The two brothers have political asylum in South Florida but are wanted in Ecuador for embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from their failed bank. The U.S. Department of State, the United Nations and the Miami-Dade Circuit Court have repeatedly ruled in the Isaías’ favor, finding the government’s case without merit.

As leftist South American leaders have been losing their grip in South America (most notably in Brazil and Argentina), many are looking to the Ecuador race to see if the trend continues. For the last decade, Correa, a charismatic, U.S.-trained economist known for bashing Washington and winning elections, has led the nation, which is best known for the Galapagos Islands and for being the diplomatic refuge of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Update: Context about the status of allegations against the Isaías’ brothers was not included in a previous version of this article.

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