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Ecuadorean banker Guillermo Lasso and his wife Maria de Lourdes Alcivar react after Lasso wins the presidential runoff vote, in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 11, 2021.

STRINGER/Reuters

A conservative businessman seems headed to Ecuador’s presidency, with voters rejecting the leftist movement started by former President Rafael Correa more than a decade ago. And in neighbouring Peru, it remained unclear which of 18 presidential hopefuls would fill the two spots in a June runoff election.

The South American nations held elections Sunday under strict public health measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently seen a spike in cases and the return of lockdowns. Peruvians also elected a new Congress.

The Electoral Council in Ecuador did not declare a winner in the contest to replace President Lenin Moreno next month, but results released by the agency showed former banker Guillermo Lasso with about 53 per cent of votes and leftist Andres Arauz with 47 per cent, with over 93 per cent of votes counted. Arauz had led the first round of voting with more than 30 per cent on Feb. 7, while Lasso edged into the final by finishing about a half percentage point ahead of environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez.

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Arauz conceded the election and so did his main backer, Correa, who remains a force in Ecuador despite a corruption conviction while living in self-exile in Belgium beyond the reach of Ecuadoran prosecutors. Moreno was also an ally of Correa but turned against him while in office.

“Sincerely, we believed we would win, but our projections were wrong,” Correa tweeted. “Good luck to Guillermo Lasso, his success will be that of Ecuador. I only ask you to stop the lawfare, which destroys lives and families.”

Correa, who oversaw an economic boom before the country hit a slowdown beginning in 2015, was sentenced in absentia last year to eight years in prison for his role in what prosecutors described as an elaborate scheme that demanded millions of dollars from businessmen in exchange for the contracts of large infrastructure projects between 2012 and 2016. He calls the allegations trumped-up charges for political ends.

Lasso finished second in the previous two presidential contests. He favours free-market policies and Ecuador’s rapprochement with international organizations. During the campaign, he proposed raising the minimum wage to $500, finding ways to include more youth and women in the labour market and eliminating tariffs for agricultural equipment.

“For years, I have dreamed of the possibility of serving Ecuadorians so that the country progresses, so that we can all live better,” Lasso said before a room full of supporters despite social distancing guidelines in the port city of Guayaquil. “Today, you have resolved that this be so.”

Accompanied by his wife, Maria de Lourdes Alcivar, Lasso said that beginning inauguration day May 24 he will dedicate himself “to the construction of a national project that continues to listen to everyone, because this project will be yours.”

Despite his declared conservative position on issues such as marriage equality, he promised to accept other points of view. He was expected to arrive to the capital city of Quito on Monday.

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Ecuador is deep in a recession that many fear will worsen as lockdowns return because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. Ecuador has tallied more than 344,000 cases and over 17,200 deaths as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

The new president’s main task will be “to depolarize the country,” said Grace M. Jaramillo, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia whose research includes Latin America. “There will be no signs of governance if the new government does not reach out and generate a platform where agreements with the (National) Assembly are possible.”

In Peru, experts did not expect comprehensive election results quickly. The presidential election turned into a popularity contest in which one candidate even addressed how he suppresses his sexual desires. The crowded field of presidential hopefuls came months after the country’s political chaos reached a new level in November, when three men were president in a single week after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign in favour of the third.

All former Peruvian presidents who governed since 1985 have been ensnared in corruption allegation, some imprisoned or arrested in their mansions. One died by suicide before police could arrest him.

Claudia Navas, a political, social and security risk analyst with the global firm Control Risks, said the fragmented election was the result of a political system that has 11 parties lacking ideological cohesiveness. She said Peruvians overall do not trust politicians, with corruption being a key driver of the disillusionment toward the political system.

Navas said the congressional elections would likely result in a splintered legislature, with no party holding a clear majority and political alliances remaining short lived. She said the new Congress also was likely to continue to exercise its impeachment authority to reinforce its own influence and block any initiative that threatens its own power.

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“So, we’ll likely continue to see significant legislative populism. This implies moves that seek to satisfy the public short-term needs and demands to the detriment of medium- and long-term sustainability,” Navas said. “Regardless of who wins, we believe that the president is somewhat unlikely to complete his or her term in office because of the of the populist-type of stance of the Congress and the risk of political instability is likely to persist through the administration.

To avoid a June runoff, a candidate would need more than 50 per cent of the votes, and an exit poll indicated the leading candidate would get only about 16 per cent support. The poll had conservative leftist teacher Pedro Castillo as the frontrunner, followed by right-wing economist Hernando de Soto and Keiko Fujimori, the opposition leader and daughter of the polarizing former President Alberto Fujimori.

The country is among the hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 1.6 million cases and over 54,600 deaths as of Sunday.

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