Sunday, September 24, 2023

Rafael Correa protégé and centrist to contest Ecuador election run-off -Dlight News

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Leftwinger Luisa González and centrist Daniel Noboa will contest a second round of Ecuador’s presidential election after a vote overshadowed by a security crisis in the Andean nation.

With nearly 92 per cent of ballot boxes counted on Monday, González — a former lawmaker loyal to socialist former president Rafael Correa — had 33 per cent of the votes, followed by Noboa with 23 per cent. The run-off will take place on October 15.

“We’re making history,” González said in the capital Quito on Sunday night. “We’re going to build a country with dignity and security.”

Security was the main issue for many voters after Fernando Villavicencio, a centre-right candidate and longtime adversary of Correa, was assassinated while leaving a rally in Quito on August 10, and with the country reeling from a wave of violence related to drug trafficking and criminal gangs.

Noboa, a 35-year-old businessman whom analysts said had benefited from a strong performance in a debate among candidates that took place after Villavicencio’s death, said: “The youth candidate, of the people who are seeking hope, who want to change Ecuador, has triumphed.”

The next president will have to manage a widening fiscal deficit and rising debt servicing costs. Analysts said the second-round campaign was likely to revolve around the political legacy of Correa, president between 2007 and 2017, who was living in Belgium following a 2020 corruption conviction in Ecuador.

“From this point on, we have an election between two distinct economic models,” said Alberto Acosta-Burneo, an economist at Spurrier Group, a consultancy. “We have Correismo, which is a model based on heavy public spending and borrowing . . . while Noboa on the other hand looks to open up markets.”

Correa’s presidency was marked by a shift away from Ecuador’s close ties to the US, with his government taking about $18bn of loans from Chinese banks, and by vocal attacks on political rivals, journalists and critics.

The per capita murder rate last year surpassed that of Mexico and Colombia as drug-trafficking groups consolidated routes along Ecuador’s pacific coast. About 3,500 people have been killed in the first six months of the year, well above 2,000 in the same period last year.

Following Villavicencio’s murder, candidates often avoided campaigning in public, with many wearing bulletproof vests and surrounded by phalanxes of security personnel when they did appear. Noboa wore a flak-jacket under his suit at the debate last weekend.

Noboa has framed his candidacy as a chance to defeat Correa’s political movement. “You are going to have the option to vote for Correismo, or for the option that isn’t Correismo,” he said on Sunday.

Noboa — the son of one of Ecuador’s richest men — stands to benefit from the support of several political movements opposed to Correa, and is a member of a four-candidate coalition that pledged to unite if one of the quartet faces González in the second round.

The hastily arranged election was triggered in May when President Guillermo Lasso dissolved congress using a constitutional clause known as “mutual death”.

The former banker was facing impeachment charges in the Correista-led national assembly over alleged embezzlement related to contracts signed before his tenure.

Ecuadoreans also voted on a new 137-seat legislature. The Citizens’ Revolution party of Correa secured about 40 per cent of that vote, with 90 per cent of ballot boxes counted, indicating that the former president’s movement will continue to wield influence in congress.

Voters also approved two referendum questions that will halt oil drilling the Amazon and mining in vast tracts of land near Quito, known as the Chocó Andino.

With most ballot boxes counted, the poll to stop drilling at the oilfield in the Yasuní National Park passed with 59 per cent of votes, while the Chocó Andino referendum received 68 per cent support.

The Yasuní block represents 12 per cent of Ecuador’s oil production, according to state-owned producer Petroecuador, which predicts losses of $13.8bn over the next two decades as a result of the referendum.

Sunday’s ballots took place without any major incidents of violence reported, despite a campaign marked with bloodshed. More than 100,000 soldiers and police officers were deployed across the country.

At a Quito rally on Sunday night, González’s supporters celebrated her performance in the first round and said a run-off victory could presage a return to Ecuador for Correa.

“I voted for Luisa because she can bring Correa back to Ecuador,” said Anita Diaz, an unemployed mother of two. “When Correa was president Ecuador was safer and richer.”

“Noboa is easy to beat,” said Mauricio Morales, a mechanic. “The right has only brought crime and decay to Ecuador.”

Cab driver Ruben Lopez said he voted for Noboa, who he described as “smart and prepared”, adding: “Correismo would be bad for Ecuador.”

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