Lasso defeats communist challenger to secure Ecuador’s presidency.

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Guillermo Lasso, an Ecuadorean banker, surprised socialist economist Andres Arauz in Sunday’s presidential runoff, placing the country on track to preserve free market reforms rather than revert to socialism.

The triumph, which comes as a relief to investors concerned about Arauz’s promises of strong social spending in the face of poor state finances, bucked a Latin American trend of recent ballot box victories for the left in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.

But Lasso, who takes office on May 24, still faces a challenging task in restarting a sluggish economy struggling after last year’s brutal coronavirus outbreak, which has spiked in recent months as vaccination efforts stalled.

“It’s a day on which all Ecuadoreans have decided their future,” Lasso said at a rally, where jubilant supporters chanted, “Lasso President!”

He added, “They have used their vote to express the need for change and the desire for better days.”

Lasso secured 52.5% of the vote versus 47.5% for Arauz, according to the National Electoral Council, which will not formally declare him the winner until after a review of poll statements marked for follow-up.

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Arauz quickly conceded defeat in a speech very different from the combative tone he adopted on the campaign trail.

“This is an electoral setback, but in no way is it a political or moral defeat because our project is for life,” said Arauz, who offered Lasso his congratulations.

Lasso’s third presidential candidacy seemed an unlikely one in a nation weary of painful economic austerity measures and initially captivated by Arauz’s promises of $1,000 handouts to poor families and a return to socialist largess.

Lasso, 65, shed his conservative image in the second round by promising progress on issues such as animal and environmental rights and greater efforts to stop discrimination over sexual orientation.

Arauz was unable to separate his persona from that of his mentor, former President Rafael Correa, who won broad support for social welfare programs during his decade-long rule.

But he was also seen as a combative bully, and his reputation was tarnished by bribery charges on which he was found guilty in absentia while in Belgium, where he now lives.

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“(Arauz’s) candidacy did not manage to create its own profile or create distance from Correa, because he knew he would lose Correa’s hard line supporters,” said political analyst Julio Echeverria.

“It was an error in all of Arauz’s campaign with respect to that underlying ambiguity.”

Lasso may also have benefited from a ballot-spoiling campaign led by indigenous activist Yaku Perez, which probably contributed to the nearly 1.7 million null votes in Sunday’s poll.

Perez ran in the first round of voting in February and narrowly lost to Lasso for a runoff spot, which he blamed on electoral fraud despite failing to provide facts.

As he takes office, Lasso will have to demonstrate that he is more effective than President Lenin Moreno in stimulating the economy by free market policies.

Moreno, who did not run for re-election, implemented painful austerity policies as part of a $6.5 billion funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, pursued trade agreements, and attempted to boost exports.

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However, it was insufficient to jump-start the oil-exporting nation’s economy, which was still hammered by low commodity prices when the coronavirus pandemic took effect.

 

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