QUITO Feb 16 An ally of leftist President
Rafael Correa and a conservative ex-banker are battling to
become Ecuador's next president in Sunday's election amid
corruption scandals and a lackluster economy.
Polls show 63-year-old former vice president Lenin Moreno
ahead, but the ruling party candidate, who has used a wheelchair
since being shot during a 1998 robbery, appears to be just short
of the minimum needed to win outright in the first round.
That would trigger an April 2 runoff, probably against
opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso, a 61-year-old former
executive president of Banco de Guayaquil.
Disparate opposition factions in the oil-producing country
of 17 million people, which stretches from the Andes to the
Galapagos Islands, may then unite to support Lasso, giving him
an edge over Moreno, analysts said.
Lasso has promised to slash taxes, foster foreign investment
and remove Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the country's
embassy in London, where he is avoiding extradition to Sweden
over rape allegations.
A Lasso victory would intensify the return of the right in
South America, where Argentina, Brazil and Peru have all shifted
away from leftist rule in the past 18 months as a decadelong
commodities boom ended.
Moreno, who wants to boost social welfare and has a more
conciliatory style than the fiery Correa, has struggled to gain
a decisive lead. Polls show he is unlikely to win more than 40
percent of valid votes and pocket a 10-point difference with his
closest rival as required to avoid a runoff.
Leading pollster Cedatos said this month that 32.3 percent
of Ecuadoreans planned to vote for Moreno versus 21.5 percent
"You must choose between continuity or change to live
better," said Lasso, who is running for president a second time.
"I have experience in creating jobs, I've done it in the last 40
years and I can do it for Ecuador."
A corruption case at Ecuador's national oil company as well
as the Latin America-wide scandal involving Brazilian
conglomerate Odebrecht have weighed on Moreno, whose running
mate is Jorge Glas, the country's vice president and former
strategic sectors minister.
To be sure, polls show a significant number of Ecuador's
12.8 million voters are undecided.
While the ruling party has lost ground during a recession,
some disenchanted Correa supporters, who tend to be poorer and
more rural, balk at the thought of voting for a wealthy
And another opposition candidate, lawyer and lawmaker
Cynthia Viteri, is diverting votes away from Lasso, meaning
Moreno might just win on Sunday.
At Moreno's closing rally in a working-class part of capital
city Quito on Wednesday night, supporters waving flags or
dressed in traditional Andean clothes chanted: "Do it in one
After extolling social programs for the elderly, mothers and
disabled people, and even breaking into song, Moreno vowed to
crack down on corruption, although he did not discuss the
Odebrecht or Petroecuador cases.
"We're proposing major surgery to remove corruption,"
Moreno, a former motivational speaker and United Nations envoy
on disability, said to cheers.
"You don't steal from the fatherland!"
There have been no polls on a hypothetical second round, but
many analysts expect Moreno to be defeated, marking an end to a
10-year rule of Correa's Country Alliance party.
"A Viteri or Lasso victory would be similarly
market-friendly and would include both efforts to attract
(Foreign Direct Investment) and an IMF program," consultancy
Eurasia said in a note to clients.
Lasso's pro-business policies have some fixed-income
investors betting on a bonanza in Ecuador should he win.
Still, the new president will face high expectations for
economic improvements in the midst of low oil prices, a steep
fiscal deficit, and onerous debts to top financier China.
The next presidential term starts on May 24 and lasts four
(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and
Lisa Von Ahn)