This Andean nation could face days of uncertainty and tension as election authorities said Sunday’s contentious presidential vote remains too close to call — casting doubt on whether there will be a runoff.
The warning came as ruling party candidate Lenín Moreno assured his followers he was on the cusp of winning outright, and the opposition raised the specter of fraud.
National Electoral Council (CNE) President Juan Pablo Pozo on Monday said authorities were pushing forward with the count as quickly possible but that it could take as long as three days to determine if a runoff is merited, and five to eight days to have definitive results. While he acknowledged the delay would only heighten tensions, he said the outcome could come down to the final ballots.
“It’s a fight over each and every vote as to whether there is a runoff or not,” he said.
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With 89 percent of the ballots counted, the CNE said Moreno had won 39.12 percent of the vote versus his nearest rival, former banker Guillermo Lasso, with 28.30 percent.
At issue is whether Moreno can break the 40 percent mark and keep a 10-point lead over Lasso. If that happens, he would win the election outright. Otherwise, the two will meet in an April 2 runoff, where the opposition, which fielded six other candidates, will likely rally behind Lasso.
On Monday, Moreno said he’s hoping that votes from the dense coastal province of Manabí and ballots from abroad will push him over the line. The ruling Alianza País party has traditionally done well with Ecuadorian emigrants.
With 57 percent of the vote counted from the United States and Canada, for example, Moreno was winning 38 percent of the vote versus Lasso’s 30 percent. While the CNE did not provide a breakdown for South Florida, most of the voters there are thought to favor the opposition and Miami is a hotbed for Correa critics, including former Ecuadorian bankers Roberto and William Isaías and exiled columnist Emilio Palacio.
As the count dragged on Monday, hundreds of people gathered around their offices in Quito and the coastal city of Guayaquil waving flags and chanting anti-government slogans.
Gorki Campuzano, a 67-year-old architect, said the last decade under Rafael Correa had led to widespread corruption that was sinking the country. He said he feared the government might commit fraud to keep all its financial crimes under wraps.
“We knew this was going to happen,” he said of the contentious vote. “The government is so stained by corruption that they are going to try to hold on to power at all costs.”
Lasso’s vice president, Andrés Paéz, rallied the crowds in front of the CNE in the capital warning the nation that the only way Moreno could avoid a runoff is through fraud.
“It’s impossible for them to hit the 40 percent, mathematically impossible,” he said.
Borja, the CNE head, advised both leading parties to measure their words and invited them to the election headquarters to explain the delays in the process.
“These elections will not be won with speculation but with votes,” he said. “We are not going to give away or take a single vote from anyone.”
He said recounts might take place in some jurisdictions where ballot tallies didn’t match the number of confirmed voters. But those cases represented less than 6 percent of all votes, he explained.
In a series of Tweets, Correa congratulated Moreno, but he also acknowledged the possibility of a runoff.
“If there is a second round, prepare for a dirty campaign from the same people as always,” he wrote. “Our best response is victory.”
Correa often accuses his enemies of planting stories about corruption to skew the election.
Santiago Zurita, a 41-year-old lawyer at a pro-Moreno rally, said he thought Moreno could win in a second round, even if Lasso received the support of all the other opposition candidates.
“It’s going to be a hard fight but it’s not impossible,” he said. “He was the victim of a dirty war, but that strategy only goes so far.”
At stake are two very different visions of the country. Moreno, 63, was Correa’s vice president from 2007-2013 and he has vowed to continue his bosses’ socialist policies.
Lasso, a 61-year-old former banker, has said he wants to root out corruption, create jobs and forge an environment where the private sector can thrive again.
Also in play are state and national congressional seats.
Nicole Davila, a housewife, had come down to the electoral office in Quito to “defend her vote.” She acknowledged that Correa had built roads, hospitals and schools, but she said the economy had suffered in the process. Jobs are hard to find, she said, and the middle class had seen its quality of life erode despite an oil boom.
“With all the money he had, he had the obligation to build roads, but now he wants us to be thankful for it,” she said. “We can’t eat roads and pavement.”