Latin America’s sway to the right seems to have stalled in this small South American country, with President Rafael Correa’s handpicked successor for the top job narrowly edging out his conservative rival.
Although the National Electoral Council, or CNE, stopped short of declaring Lenín Moreno the outright winner of Sunday’s race, the 64-year-old politician went through the motions of a president-elect. On Monday, he received calls from foreign leaders, assisted a ceremonial military ceremony by Correa’s side and called for unity and harmony in the deeply divided nation.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, the electoral body said Moreno had won 51 percent of the vote versus former banker Guillermo Lasso with 49 percent.
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Lasso and his CREO party are contesting the results, and their sympathizers on Monday were gathered at the electoral office in the capital of Quito. But in Ecuador, where key levers of power — including the CNE and the courts — are in the hands of the ruling party, analysts don’t expect the results to change.
Lasso’s running mate, Andrés Páez, has been leading the charges of wrongdoing, and Monday called for a complete recount.
“There has been monumental fraud,” he said. “Even in Venezuela, there’s never been fraud like this.”
Moreno will take office May 24 and — depending on who you believe — will inherit a nation in full economic recovery or one on the ropes.
Correa, who has led the country of 16 million since 2007, has said its financial worries are in the past. On Sunday, as he voted, he said he was “leaving the table set” for whomever took power.
But analysts say Moreno will be in for a painful few years as falling oil revenue and deep debt will turn his campaign promises — including free houses and boosting welfare payments by 200 percent — into heavy burdens.
The Observatory for Fiscal Policy, a civil society group, says Moreno will face a $9 billion shortfall in 2017 alone.
Moreno, a father of three, has been a paraplegic since he was shot during a robbery in 1998. And before he became Correa’s vice president from 2007-2013, he was a motivational speaker and gave lectures on how to use laughter to overcome adversity.
In diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010, U.S. Embassy officials described the then-vice president as a genial man who was willing to find common ground with his American counterparts.
He’s going to need all the good humor he can muster.
While the ruling Alianza País party enjoys a majority in congress, Moreno will face other pressures. Moreno says one of his priorities will be to attack corruption. But that could put him on a collision course with people in his own party — perhaps even inside the presidential palace. In the weeks leading up to the election, Moreno’s running mate, Jorge Glas, was the target of numerous allegations that he was complicit in corruption inside the state-run Petroecuador oil company.
The mild-mannered Moreno may also have to be on guard from his old firebrand boss, Correa. While Correa has pledged to move to Belgium, where his wife is from, when he steps down, few believe the charismatic political animal will go gently.
The New York-based Eurasia Group said Moreno and Correa’s relationship is “already characterized by mutual distrust,” and “Correa is eying a return to the presidency in 2021, if not before.” That suggests Correa — who still remains popular and influential — may be second-guessing his one time employee from Europe.
And political watchers believe Correa will have his hands on the wheel through Glas, who is Correa’s current vice president as well as Moreno’s running mate. Indeed, many wonder if Moreno’s health issues might force him to step down before his four year term is up.
“Moreno is going to have to lead under tremendously difficult circumstances,” said Quito-based political analyst Luis Verdesoto.
Along with an economic crisis, he’s going to have to figure out how to deal with corruption in the Alianza País party without losing his internal alliances. And if the shadow of electoral fraud hounds him, that could generate instability.
“His legitimacy after these elections is so fragile and it could come apart at any time,” Verdesoto said.
Beyond Ecuador’s borders, Moreno’s victory was seen as a reprieve for the region’s beleaguered socialists. In recent years, left-leaning figures have either been voted out or run out of office in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
When Ecuador held the line, South America’s remaining leftist leaders rejoiced.
“The united people of Ecuador triumphed over the empire,” Bolivian President Evo Morales wrote on Twitter.
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro also chimed in saying, “The Citizens Revolution has been victorious.”
But during his victory speech late Sunday, Moreno extended an olive branch to the almost half of the population that is demanding a change.
“This is the moment for peace, the moment for union,”” he said. “Everyone will have a new opportunity, and we’ll call for dialogue and harmony. My hand is outstretched.”