On to round two in Ecuador

Counting from last Sunday’s presidential election in Ecuador finally seems to over, at least for all practical purposes. The long delay in counting the last few per cent of the votes had aroused suspicions that the electoral council, whose relationship with the government seems very close, was trying to fix the result to ensure the ruling party’s candidate, Lenín Moreno, a first-round victory.

But not so. Moreno needed to get more than 40% of the vote and be at least 10% ahead of his nearest rival (see my preview here). He achieved the second target but not the first, finishing with 39.4%. The centre-right’s Guillermo Lasso was runner-up with 28.1%, and will now face Moreno in a runoff on 2 April.

(The official results website is here, but I can’t get it to load actual numbers; maybe someone with a different browser might do better, or there may be some trick to it that I’ve been unable to work out. But the figures are widely reported in the media: I’m mostly working off the Spanish-language Wikipedia site, which has been updated regularly and now shows 99.6% of polling places reporting, as of early this morning Australian time.)

That 11.3% lead is less impressive than it looks, because the third place-getter, Cynthia Viteri of the Social Christian Party, is also from the centre-right and quickly endorsed Lasso for the second round. Her 16.3% of the vote, if it flows solidly, would be more than enough to wipe out Moreno’s lead.

In fourth place was the centre-left’s Paco Moncayo with 6.7%, followed by centrist populist Abdalá Bucaram on 4.8% and independent Iván Espinel on 3.2%. Moncayo has refused to endorse either contender, but it looks as if Moreno will need to pick up a decent share of his votes in order to win. Both sides are expressing optimism, but the weight of pundit opinion seems to suggest that Lasso has the edge.

The left, however, will retain its majority in the legislature: Correa’s PAIS Alliance has won 73 of the 137 seats (down from 100), helped by the first-past-the-post voting system in most districts. Lasso’s group will have 34 and the Social Christians another 15. So a Lasso presidency would be likely to face difficulties in getting its legislation passed – not an unusual problem in Latin America.

Whatever happens, change is in the air, since Moreno is less of a radical leftist than incumbent Rafael Correa, and he has rejected suggestions that he would just be Correa’s proxy. If Lasso gets up, on the other hand, it will be clear confirmation of the shift to the right in South America that has been evident during the last year or so in Argentina, Venezuela and Peru.

Compared to some of his fellow-leftists, Correa has had a generally successful time in office, avoiding some of the more obvious pitfalls of corruption and economic incompetence. But after ten years, Ecuadorians may be ready to try something different.

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