Former banker Guillermo Lasso pledged to change crisis-wracked Ecuador’s “destiny” after overcoming leftist economist Andres Arauz in the country’s presidential election.
With 96.35% of votes counted by Monday morning, Lasso maintained a lead of almost five percentage points over Arauz, who conceded late on Sunday night.
Right-winger Lasso, 65, will inherit a pandemic-battered and debt-laden economy and a political system riven by gridlock when he takes over from the unpopular Lenin Moreno next month.
“On May 24 we will assume with responsibility the challenge of changing our country’s destiny and achieving for all Ecuador the opportunities and prosperity we all yearn for,” said Lasso, a seasoned politician who has finished second in presidential votes twice before.
Lasso, of the Creating Opportunities movement, faces a tough job during his four-year term with Arauz’s leftist Union of Hope coalition the largest party in parliament.
“There will be permanent tension with the executive. There’s almost no chance of the reforms the country needs,” said Pablo Romero, an analyst at Salesiana University.
Lasso must now juggle the need to boost an economy that shrunk by 7.8 percent in 2020, while managing the pandemic that has overwhelmed hospitals with more than 340,000 coronavirus infections and over 17,000 deaths.
He also faces overall debt of almost $64 billion — 63% of GDP — of which $45 billion is external debt.
Arauz, best known as the protege of former president Rafael Correa, was magnanimous despite earlier claiming victory following a tight exit poll.
“I congratulate him on his electoral triumph today and I will show him our democratic convictions,” said Arauz.
Lasso, who later tweeted that he had received a call from Arauz, had 52.42 percent of the vote compared with Arauz’s 47.58 percent, the National Electoral Council said.
The former banker finished 13 percentage points behind Arauz in February’s first round of voting but stormed back to win the second round.
Twice before he had finished second: to Correa in 2013 and Moreno in 2017.
Lasso only scraped into the run-off by less than half a percentage point ahead of indigenous candidate Yaku Perez, who contested the result and claimed to have been the victim of fraud.
Speaking in his home city of Guayaquil — Ecuador’s economic motor — Lasso vowed to install a government of change “without leaving anyone behind.”
“Today we can sleep in peace and calm. I don’t arrive with a list of who I want to persecute or see in jail,” he said, in what seemed a thinly veiled barb at Arauz.
Prior to the election, Arauz had suggested he wanted to see Moreno charged with neglect over Ecuador’s pandemic management.
During Moreno’s mandate, Arauz’s mentor Correa was convicted of corruption and sentenced to eight years in jail, although he has yet to serve that as he lives in exile in Belgium.
“I want to see all Ecuadorans free, without fear of the government … expressing their opinions freely,” said Lasso.
The director-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, congratulated Lasso on the win, saying he hoped they could work together in “strengthening democracy, human rights, security and development.”
Both Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou and Luis Abinader, president of the Dominican Republic, said on Twitter they had called Lasso to offer their congratulations.
“I am sure that we are both going to work for the economic recovery of our peoples and the generation of jobs for our fellow citizens,” Abinader wrote.
Voting was obligatory for oil-rich Ecuador’s 13.1 million registered voters.
Arauz, 36, was a virtual unknown before topping February’s first round of voting on the back of support from Correa, who led the country from 2007 to 2017.
Many experts billed the election as a battle of “Correism versus anti-Correism” in a country bitterly divided along political lines.
Correa, whose influence on Ecuadoran politics remains strong, would have been Arauz’s running mate but for his corruption conviction.
Romero told AFP this was a “profound defeat” for Correa but by no means meant “the end of Correism.”
However, “it won’t have the same strength from now on. Correa will remain relegated and we will have to see who within Correism will be able to sustain this.”