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Leftist Andres Arauz Leads Ecuador Presidential Election

The 36-year-old, who got 30% votes in early count, said he would not comply with agreements with IMF and tax the wealthy.
Ecuadorean Presidential left-wing candidate Andres Arauz

Ecuadorean Presidential left-wing candidate Andres Arauz. Image Courtesy: Yahoo News

Quito: A young leftist, Andres Arauz, led the field of 16 candidates in early returns from Ecuador's presidential election Sunday, which was held under strict sanitary measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Arauz, who is supported by former President Rafael Correa — a major force in the troubled Andean nation— appeared likely to go on to an April 11 runoff, though it wasn't clear hours after polls closed who else might advance.

An early quick count showed conservative former banker Guillermo Lasso and indigenous rights and environmental activist Yaku Pérez vying for second place.

In the early count, Arauz had more than 30% of the votes, and Lasso and Pérez each were around 20%. To win outright, a candidate needed 50% of the vote, or to have at least 40% with a 10-point lead over the closest opponent.

Voters were required to wear masks, bring their own bottle of hand sanitiser and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid all personal contact in the polling places. The only time voters were allowed to lower their masks was during the identification process.

Long lines formed at polling places, especially in big cities, where some voters had to wait hours to cast their ballots.

“I don't care who wins the elections. We are used to thinking that the messiah is coming to solve our lives and no candidate has solved anything for me,” said one voter, Ramiro Loza. “During the quarantine, my income was reduced by 80%, and the politicians did not feed me.”

The winning candidate will have to work to pull the oil-producing nation out of a deepening economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The South American country of 17 million people recorded more than 257,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 15,000 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Arauz, a former culture minister who attended the University of Michigan, has proposed making the wealthy pay more taxes and strengthening consumer protection mechanisms, public banking and local credit and savings organizations. Arauz, 36, said he would not comply with agreements with the International Monetary Fund.

Arauz could not cast his vote in the capital, Quito, because he was registered to do so in Mexico, where he lived until shortly before his nomination, and he did not change his electoral address.

Lasso, 65, was making a third run for the presidency after a long career in business, banking and government. He favours free-market policies and Ecuador's rapprochement with international organisations. He promised to create more jobs and attract international banks. He also wants to boost the oil, mining and energy sectors through the participation of private entities to replace state financing.

Pérez, 51, is a lawyer and one of the country's most visible Indigenous leaders. He became governor of an Ecuadorian province in 2019, but he resigned a year later to seek the presidency. During the campaign, the widower and father of two travelled about 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) on a bamboo bicycle.

Hovering over the election was the future of Correa, a leftist who is still only 57. He governed from 2007 to 2017 as an ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, both now deceased.

Correa remains popular among millions of Ecuadorians after overseeing a period of economic growth driven by an oil boom and loans from China that allowed him to expand social programmes, build roads, schools and other projects. But he has been accused of increasingly cracking down on opponents, the press and businesses during his latter stage in office. His appeal also has been tarnished by corruption conviction that he says was a trumped up product of political vengeance.

That conviction barred him from running as Arauz's vice presidential candidate.

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