Sat, Apr 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Ex-banker vies with Correa ally for Ecuador top job

Reuters, QUITO

An ally of leftist Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and a right-wing former bank boss are battling to become Ecuador’s next president in tomorrow’s election, after a tense and tight campaign in the historically volatile Andean nation.

With a sputtering economy the top voter concern, Ecuadorans are to choose between continuing a decade of leftist rule or following several South American nations in shifting toward a pro-business government as a commodities boom ends.

Former Ecuadoran vice president Lenin Moreno, 64, just missed the minimum threshold to win the presidency in the first round in February, and latest polls show him narrowly beating conservative rival Guillermo Lasso this time around.

Moreno, who uses a wheelchair since being shot during a robbery in 1998, has promised to boost social benefits to single mothers, pensioners and disabled Ecuadorans.

He painted his opponent as an elitist who would slash welfare policies and linked him to a 1999 financial crisis when hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorans lost their savings.

“We’re choosing between a country run for a few, full of privatizations, or a country for everyone,” Moreno told a cheering crowd in low-income southern Quito on Thursday night.

“Say no to the banker,” he also said of Lasso, whom foes accuse of using shady offshore holdings to dodge taxes. “[He] wants to submit Ecuadorans to instability and permanent conflict.”

Lasso, a 61-year-old former head of Banco de Guayaquil who has campaigned on boosting jobs, said Moreno is recklessly over-promising, considering Ecuador’s highly indebted economy.

He also accused the ruling Country Alliance party of covering up corruption scandals, stifling media and stacking institutions with their supporters in the vein of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

“Change means that we don’t suffer what Venezuela is living, a one-party dictatorship,” Lasso told flag-waving supporters on Thursday after the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to shut down the country’s opposition-led National Assembly sent shockwaves through Latin America.

In addition to vowing a tough line against Maduro, Lasso has also promised to remove WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange from the Ecuadoran embassy in London.

Polls show Moreno has pulled ahead of Lasso in the past few weeks. He had 52.4 percent of valid votes versus Lasso’s 47.6 percent in a 18 to 21 March survey by leading pollster Cedatos with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points and about 16 percent of voters undecided.

With both camps urging supporters to take to the streets to guard against possible election fraud, the nation of 16 million is bracing for protests after a decade of relative stability.

Three of eight Ecuadoran presidents were toppled in the decade before Correa came to power in 2007. While Correa brought calm to the smallest member of OPEC, opponents accuse him of morphing into an autocrat.

Hundreds of suspicious Lasso supporters massed in front of the nation’s electoral council after results were slow to trickle out in February’s first round.

Lasso accused government-paid “foreign mercenaries,” whom he insinuated were Venezuelan, of trying to attack him with rocks, sticks and knives after a soccer game on Tuesday.

The government rejected the accusation.

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