Americas

Ecuador votes in presidential race with international implications

On Sunday, February 19, 2017 Jorge Constain, 58, a dual citizen and South Miami resident, right, cast his vote along with other local Ecuadoreans in his country's election at Albizu University in Doral, Florida.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017 Jorge Constain, 58, a dual citizen and South Miami resident, right, cast his vote along with other local Ecuadoreans in his country's election at Albizu University in Doral, Florida. cjuste@miamiherald.com

This Andean nation is heading to the polls Sunday in a presidential election that will reverberate from London to Washington as the country decides to either double down on its "citizens revolution" or opt for change.

Ruling party candidate Lenín Morneo, 63, was leading most polls ahead of the race even as they showed he was unlikely to amass enough votes to avoid an April 2 runoff against former banker Guillermo Lasso.

But in an era when polls have failed (Brexit, the Colombian 'No' vote, and the U.S presidential elections), the mood is uncertain here.

"Nobody knows who's going to win," said Ludmila Mita, who was selling corn on the streets of the capital. "Only God knows."

Read More: Ecuador’s “Miami scandal”

The vote is amplified here because it marks the first time in a decade that President Rafael Correa, a charismatic populist, is not in the running. Instead, his one-time vice president, Moreno, a businessman and advocate for the disabled, is leading the charge.

If Moreno wins at least 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point lead over his nearest rival the race is over. If he doesn't, he'll have to face the runner-up — and a unified opposition — in an April 2 vote that analysts have said will be difficult for him to clench.

Final polls were released Feb. 8, but all of them predicted a runoff was likely. A poll by the closely-watched firm Cedatos found Moreno had 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.

Even so, a large portion of the electorate remained undecided, casting a pall over the results.

Read More: Can Rafael Correa’s “Citizens Revolution” prevail?

Correa was swept into office in 2007 amid a Latin American shift to the left that saw the likes of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Uruguay's José "Pepe" Mujica and Argentina's Christina Fernandez de Kirchner in office.

Ten years later, Correa and Morales are the last men standing. And in that sense, the region is watching to see if Correa — a U.S. trained economist with a penchant for winning elections and bashing Washington — can hand off the presidency and safeguard his legacy.

While many here are grateful for the new roads, schools and hospitals that Correa helped create, a wave of corruption scandals has also soured the national mood. Some said they wanted Correa's Alianza País party out of power simply for the sake of change.

Ecuador is best known for the Galapagos and its flower and banana exports, but the vote here could have consequences across the Atlantic and in Washington.

The outcome of the vote will likely determine the fate of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 avoiding extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual misconduct. Both Lasso and former Viteri have said they will evict him from the embassy. Moreno has said he will follow Correa's lead and allow Assange — who was seen as a key player in the U.S. presidential race — to stay in the embassy.

Polls will close at 5 P.M. EST.

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