Lasso Leads in Ecuador Election With 86% of Votes Counted

Career banker Guillermo Lasso had a lead of nearly six percentage points over socialist economist Andres Arauz with most of the votes counted in Ecuador’s presidential election.

Lasso had 52.8% of votes, while Arauz had to 47.2%, with 86% of ballots tallied.

Lasso’s supporters honked car horns in the capital Quito, and jumped and cheered in the coastal city of Guayaquil. The atmosphere at Arauz’s campaign headquarters was subdued.

The two contenders in the runoff vote on Sunday offer starkly different policies to confront the economic crisis. The result will also determine whether the country remains a U.S. ally with an IMF program, or revives its friendship with Venezuela and Cuba.

Lasso, 65, says he’ll attract foreign investors and create jobs via policies that help the private sector. Arauz, 36, has pledged to pay a million poor families $1,000 each, with money taken out of the central bank’s reserves.

Arauz is a protege of former President Rafael Correa, who shut the U.S. military’s base in the country and forged an alliance with then-Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Lasso Leads in Ecuador Election With 86% of Votes Counted

The country of 17 million people has been struggling since oil prices crashed in 2014, and was already in recession when the pandemic hit. Last year the economy contracted 7.8%, its worst performance since at least the 1970s.

In the first-round vote in February, Arauz came first with 32.7%, while Lasso got 19.7%. Recent polls showed Lasso having closed that gap, after receiving the endorsement of the majority of the candidates who were eliminated in the first round.

Whoever wins and takes office in May will face a fragmented, potentially hostile legislature and voters who are hostile to austerity measures.

Lasso Leads in Ecuador Election With 86% of Votes Counted

Ecuador’s recently restructured dollar bonds have rallied in recent weeks, as investors bet that Lasso’s chances of victory were improving. Arauz’s campaign pledge to tap the central bank’s reserves to distribute $1 billion to needy families, would probably set him on a collision course with the International Monetary Fund, since central bank reform is a key part of the nation’s deal with the lender.

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