QUITO, Ecuador – After several days of suspense, the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Ecuador announced that Lenín Moreno of Rafael Correa’s left-wing Alianza PAIS coalition failed to win the presidential election outright in the first round by the narrowest of margins and will face Guillermo Lasso in the runoff vote on April 2.
Barred from running for the presidency again due to term limits, the outgoing and highly popular Rafael Correa, whose supporters easily collected enough signatures to hold a constitutional amendment referendum to allow Correa to run again, threw his backing behind Moreno.
Correa, like many observers and pollsters, believed that Moreno had enough momentum to defeat all challengers in the first round.
Juan Pablo Pozo, the head of the CNE, however, announced that there was no clear winner in the first round after several days of tense scrutinization of the ballot boxes and unfounded allegations of fraud from several candidates and parties.
“With 99.5 percent of votes counted, I can inform the nation that on Sunday, April 2, the second round of voting will be held,” said Pozo.
According to the Ecuadorian Constitution, a candidate wins the election outright if they emerge victorious in the first round with a vote of over 50 percent or a vote of 40 percent plus a lead of 10 percent over the next closest challenger.
Pozo said that the CNE’s results showed Moreno, Correa’s second-in-command from 2007 to 2013, narrowly missed the latter prerequisite.
According to the CNE, Moreno came in first by a large margin having obtained over 39.35 percent of the vote.
In a distant second with 28.11 percent was Guillermo Lasso, a businessman, banker and politician that represents the center-right CREO party.
Lasso ran against Correa in the 2013 election where the latter emerged victorious in the first round through a landslide victory in which he earned over 3 million votes more than Lasso, who finished second.
This means that while Moreno received well over a million votes and 11 percentage points more than Lasso, he came up just .6 percent short of an outright victory in the first round.
In third place was Cynthia Viteri, a lawyer and politician representing the center-right/right-wing Social Christian Party with 16 percent of the vote.
Viteri, who previously presented herself for the 2006 election but finished fifth with 9.63 percent of the vote, has already offered her endorsement to Lasso in the second round.
Francisco “Paco” Moncayo, a former military commander and mayor of Quito, finished fourth with just under 7 percent of the vote, a figure that will likely be important to Moreno as Moncayo’s voters, belonging to his socialdemocratic-leaning Democratic Left party, are much more likely to shun Lasso and support the ruling party’s candidate.
The candidates that finished in fifth and sixth place were center-right populist Abdalá “Dalo” Bucaram with less than 5 percent and centrist Iván Espinel Molina with just over 3 percent, respectively.
Correa, for his part, has said in recent months that he would step aside from politics “for some time” and settle in his wife’s birth country of Belgium for a few years. This week, however, he said that he does not rule out returning almost immediately should Lasso emerge victorious so that “everything that was achieved in the last 10 years is not lost.”
“We are happy that we won the first round with over a million popular votes. If they are happy that they managed to barely force a second round, that is their right. Regardless, we will defeat them again in April,” Correa said.
Despite his belief that the Alianza PAIS would win, Correa knows that the “opposition is backed by hundreds of millions of dollars” provided to Lasso, a former head of the Bank of Guayaquil, by international financial institutions and corporations interested in seeing a pro-business and anti-regulation leader in Ecuador.
Still, he was confident: “We have faced these sorts of pressures, insults and threats in the past and we have overcome them, and we will do it again come April 2.”