Leftist leads in early returns for Ecuador presidential vote

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Esperanza-UNES- alliance party presidential candidate Andres Arauz, left, and his running mate Carlos Rabascall celebrate as they wait for the official results to know if they have reached the necessary percentage to win in the first electoral round, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

QUITO – A young leftist backed by a convicted-but-popular former president led the field of 16 candidates in early returns from Ecuador’s presidential election Sunday, which was held under strict sanitary measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrés Arauz, who is supported by former President Rafael Correa — a major force in the troubled Andean nation despite a corruption conviction — will head to an April 11 runoff, though it wasn’t clear hours after polls closed who else might advance. An official quick count showed conservative former banker Guillermo Lasso and indigenous rights and environmental activist Yaku Pérez were in a tight fight for second place.

Arauz got 31.5% of the votes, while Pérez had 20.04% and Lasso had 19.97%, according to the Electoral Council of Ecuador. To win outright, a candidate needed 50% of the vote, or to have at least 40% with a 10-point lead over the closest opponent.

Voters were required to wear masks, bring their own bottle of hand sanitizer and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid all personal contact in the polling places. The only time voters were allowed to lower their masks was during the identification process.

Long lines formed at polling places, especially in big cities, where some voters had to wait hours to cast their ballots.

“I don’t care who wins the elections. We are used to thinking that the messiah is coming to solve our lives and no candidate has solved anything for me,” said one voter, Ramiro Loza. “During the quarantine, my income was reduced by 80%, and the politicians did not feed me.”

The winning candidate will have to work to pull the oil-producing nation out of a deepening economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The South American country of 17 million people recorded more than 257,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 15,000 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Arauz, a former culture minister who attended the University of Michigan, has proposed making the wealthy pay more taxes and strengthening consumer protection mechanisms, public banking and local credit and savings organizations. Arauz, 36, said he would not comply with agreements with the International Monetary Fund.