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Correa-backed candidate Arauz leads in Ecuador election, comes short of one round victory

Correa-backed candidate Arauz leads in Ecuador election, comes short of one round victory
Early official results indicate a strong lead for socialist Andres Arauz in Sunday's general election in Ecuador. He, and whoever wins second place, are slated for a second round face-off in April.

The preliminary count, released by Ecuador's National Electoral Council on Monday morning, shows Arauz in the lead of the race with over 30 percent of the votes. Yaku Perez is behind by double digits with just over 20 percent, almost tied with Guillermo Lasso.

An earlier unofficial exit poll by pollster Clima Social gave Arauz an even larger margin of victory, with 36.2 percent, trailed by Lasso's 21.7 percent. Barring some dramatic shift in the count, the successor to incumbent President Lenin Moreno will be determined in the second round on April 11.

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Arauz is the candidate endorsed by Moreno's predecessor, Rafael Correa, and served as minister of knowledge and human talent during his presidency. The former president and some of his allies were barred from running for office in Ecuador by various criminal convictions, which his supporters see as ‘lawfare’ attacks by Moreno's government. Arauz was relatively unknown in Ecuador before becoming the left's candidate for presidency.

The 36-year-old, who may become the youngest president in Ecuador's history, ran on a promise to stop IMF-mandated austerity imposed by Moreno, revive social programs of the Correa times, and hand out direct stimulus checks to the poorest Ecuadorans. Arauz called his first round victory a “triumph” over Lasso, a 65-year-old conservative banker, who is making his third attempt to take the top office in the country.

During his campaign, Lasso promised voters to draw international investments into Ecuador, promote entrepreneurship and prevent de-dollarization of the economy, a policy favored by Arauz. One of his more puzzling suggestions was to make the iconic giant Virgin of El Panecillo monument in Quito rotate, so that it could face both the rich north and the poor south of the capital.

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Yaku Perez, an indigenous environmental activist and former prefect of southern Azuay Province, is a relative newcomer on the national political scene, having risen to prominence in 2019 during anti-austerity protests. He is a self-described “flexible left” candidate and an opponent of the Correa movement. In 2017 he even endorsed his current second place rival, Lasso, who was running for president against Moreno.

Ironically, Moreno was a Correa protege in 2017 and was expected to govern as a leftist. But he switched gears after taking power and became a staunch supporter of austerity measures and other neoliberal policies.

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Ecuador held the first round of the election during a difficult time, when an economic crisis, double-digit unemployment and worsening living conditions became exacerbated by the Covid-19 epidemic, which has claimed over 15,000 lives.

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