Hello Lenin: recount demanded after leftist wins presidency in Ecuador

Election authority denies fraud as Lenin Moreno celebrates winning presidency

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa with president-elect Lenin Moreno and his wife Rocio Gonzalez in Quito. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

Socialist candidate Lenin Moreno on Monday celebrated victory in Ecuador’s presidential election, bucking a shift to the right in South America, but his conservative challenger demanded a recount as supporters took to the streets in protest.

Mr Moreno's triumph was a relief for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, after former banker Guillermo Lasso had vowed to remove him from Ecuador's embassy in London if he won the run-off. It was also a boost for the struggling leftist movement in South America after right-leaning governments recently came to power in Argentina, Brazil and Peru as a commodities boom ended, economies flagged and corruption scandals grew.

The region's high-profile socialist leader, president Nicolas Maduro of crisis-hit Venezuela, congratulated Mr Moreno profusely on Twitter, as did Bolivian president Evo Morales. "Congratulations Ecuador, the citizen's revolution has triumphed!" said Mr Maduro, as did much of his cabinet. "Twenty-first century socialism always triumphs," tweeted Mr Morales. "Congratulations brother @Lenin!"

Mr Lasso had promised to denounce the embattled Mr Maduro, who foes say has turned his country into a dictatorship. Mr Moreno, a paraplegic former-vice president, secured 51.15 per cent of the votes, compared with Mr Lasso’s 48.85 per cent, with nearly 99 per cent of votes counted, according to the electoral council on Monday morning.


Leftist rule

Mr Lasso, who had proclaimed himself victorious based on a top pollster’s exit poll, disputed the close results that would extend a decade-long leftist rule in oil-rich Ecuador.

"They've crossed a line," he told supporters in a hotel in his coastal hometown of Guayaquil on Sunday, vowing to challenge the results, a complex process that could take time. "We're going to defend the will of the Ecuadorean people in the face of this fraud attempt," he said.

Mr Lasso tweeted photos showing what he said were original votes for him that were changed by electoral officials. The election authority denied fraud allegations.

Mr Lasso contrasted Sunday's quickly tallied vote with the first round in February, when the results took days to come out. Hundreds of his supporters swarmed in front of electoral council offices in the capital, Quito, and Guayaquil, waving yellow, blue and red Ecuadorean flags and chanting "No to fraud" and "We don't want to be Venezuela". There were reports of isolated clashes on Sunday night, but protests ebbed as the night went on.

“This is shameless fraud, we all know it,” said taxi driver Roberto Vera (50) on Monday. “They’re from the Venezuelan school, that’s their governance model and it will do great harm to all Ecuadoreans.”

But ruling Country Alliance officials scoffed that Mr Lasso was a sore loser and was inciting violence. Mr Moreno’s party will have control of Congress, but he will need to cultivate support from many in the polarised country who view his narrow win with suspicion.

Ecuadorean presidential candidate of the ruling Alianza PAIS party, Lenin Moreno, waves to his supporters as they waited for the final results of the run-off election in Quito on Sunday. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images

Che Guevara

Mr Moreno, who lost the use of his legs two decades ago when he was shot during a robbery, would become a rare head of state to use a wheelchair when he takes office on May 24th. “Lenin,” as he is commonly referred to by his supporters, celebrated in mountainous Quito overnight with the flag-waving crowd chanting “Lenin President”.

"We're going to keep building the path. We've done a lot but there's a lot more to do," he said, flanked by running mate and current vice-president, Jorge Glas, as well as beaming outgoing president Rafael Correa. He broke into several songs, including one about Argentine revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Mr Moreno, a former UN special envoy on disability and accessibility, has a more conciliatory style than the fiery Mr Correa and has promised benefits for single mothers, the elderly and disabled Ecuadoreans. He will be under pressure to create jobs and crack down on graft amid corruption scandals at state-run oil company PetroEcuador and Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht.

Mr Lasso has criticised Mr Moreno as being ill-equipped to deal with economic issues and warned that his major social promises would hit already pressured coffers in a country dependent on exports of oil, bananas and shrimp.

“Moreno’s margin of victory was much smaller than those of his predecessor Rafael Correa, leaving him in a much weaker spot,” said John Polga, a political scientist at the US Naval Academy. “He has the advantage of a legislative majority (for now), but his government will have to confront fiscal restraints, a stagnant economy and the burden of a recovery from last April’s earthquake.”

– (Reuters)