Udayavni Special

Ecuador picks conservative for president; Peru sets runoff


PTI, Apr 13, 2021, 11:14 AM IST

Quito: Ecuador will be led for the next four years by a conservative businessman after voters rebuffed a left-leaning movement that yielded an economic boom and then a recession since taking hold of the presidency last decade.

That election certainty, however, did not extend to neighbouring Peru, where the presidential contest is headed to a runoff after none of the 18 candidates obtained more than 50 per cent of the votes.

The South American countries held elections Sunday under strict public health measures amid a surging COVID-19 pandemic that has brought on new lockdowns and exacerbated a general sense of fatigue.

Peru, which also elected a new Congress, reported its highest single-day COVID-19 death count just as voters headed to the polls.

The victory of former banker Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador came after less than half of a percentage point put him ahead of another candidate and allowed him to claim a spot in Sunday’s runoff.

The result breaks off the country’s years under the so-called Correismo, a movement labelled after former President Rafael Correa who governed Ecuador from 2007 through 2017, grew increasingly authoritarian in the latter years of his presidency and was sentenced to prison last year in a corruption scandal.

Correa’s protégé, Andrés Arauz, easily advanced to the contest to replace President Lenín Moreno, who chose not to seek re-election. Moreno was also an ally of Correa but turned against him while in office.

In the runoff, Lasso benefited from the discontent toward Correa and his allies, but he will have to face a strong Correista bloc in congress.

“The first action will be to put the economy in order, promote investment and generate employment so that all Ecuadorians do not emigrate, stay in Ecuador and achieve the dreams they want for their families here,” Lasso said at a press conference Monday.

He said his immigration policy is twofold, defending Ecuadorians abroad “but at the same time, also acting humanely with Venezuelans who have arrived in Ecuador.

“… We cannot be so inconsistent in asking for a good treatment for Ecuadorians living abroad and mistreating foreigners living in Ecuador; we have to be coherent and will seek to work with the United Nations,” he said.

Ecuador is among the countries that have seen an influx of Venezuelan immigrants who have left their troubled nation in search of better opportunities.

Asked about his future international policy, Lasso said he will promote the broadest multilateralism as a democrat “with a project that seeks the well-being of the Ecuadorian people.”

“That definition of the left and right is a reductionism in disuse at the present time,” he said.

Elections officials have not officially declared a winner, but Arauz conceded the election on Sunday and at least one head of state has congratulated Lasso on the outcome.

Economist Nikhil Sanghani with the firm Capital Economics on Monday wrote that the divided National Assembly “may water down” some of Lasso’s policies, but that concerns over “a shift towards interventionist policymaking under Arauz” should give way to relief that left-wing populism did not prevail.

“The more market-friendly Lasso looks set to maintain amicable relations with the (International Monetary Fund), and will probably focus on improving the public finances,” Sanghani wrote. “… Our best guess is that the new government will pursue more moderate fiscal austerity, which would stop the public debt-to-GDP ratio from spiralling higher, but equally would not push it down as the IMF expects.”

The pandemic paralysed 70 per cent of businesses in Ecuador last year and brought the country’s unemployment rate to almost 68 per cent. The country already had been in an economic slowdown that began in 2015, largely driven by the drop in oil prices.

Similarly, in Peru, the world’s second-largest copper producer, the economy spiralled downward when a lockdown of more than 100 days early in the pandemic left about 7 million people unemployed.

But unlike in Ecuador, Sunday’s elections did not bring any clarity about the country’s future.

Eighteen presidential hopefuls turned the election into a popularity contest in which an ultra-conservative candidate even addressed how he suppresses his sexual desires. But none obtained the more than 50 per cent of support needed to avoid a June 6 runoff.

Elections officials on Monday said leftist Pedro Castillo had 18.9 per cent of support, with 90 per cent of ballots processed.

He was followed by opposition leader Keiko Fujimori at 13.2 per cent, right-wing economist Hernando de Soto with 11.86 per cent and ultra-conservative businessman Rafael López Aliaga at 11.83 per cent.

The crowded presidential contest came months after the country’s political chaos reached a new level in November when three men were president in a single week after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign in favour of the third.

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