Ecuador on edge as leftist party appears to extend its reign

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QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador was locked in a political standoff Monday after a disputed presidential vote, with leftist candidate Lenín Moreno claiming victory and his conservative opponent denouncing the results as fraudulent.
The election was a political barometer for several long-dominant leftist parties in South America that have been in retreat after electoral losses. Ecuador’s results appeared to buck that trend.
Election officials have yet to formally declare Moreno the winner, but with 99 percent of the ballots counted, he had a 51 percent to 49 percent advantage over right-wing challenger Guillermo Lasso.
Lasso rejected those results, and his campaign said Monday it had proof that vote tallies were doctored in Moreno’s favor, and would post evidence online to back up its claims.
Ecuador has been on edge since polls closed Sunday evening. Citing an exit poll by the respected Cedatos firm showing him winning by a comfortable margin, Lasso gave an emotional speech declaring victory. “Fight!” he told his supporters, well before the first official tallies were released. “We won’t let them cheat us!”
At a rally soon after, Moreno told his cheering supporters that he had won. “Onward to victory!” he shouted. “We’ll continue changing Ecuador for the better.”
On Twitter, President Rafael Correa said Sunday night that violence had broken out in Quito and several other cities. “What they can’t accomplish at the polls, they’re trying to achieve by force,” wrote Correa.
Correa has been in power since 2007 and was ineligible to run again. He has had a tense relationship with the U.S. government, ejecting the American ambassador in 2011 and closing an American military base in 2009. Ties are expected to improve if the more moderate Moreno wins.
Correa declared Moreno, his former vice president, the victor, even though election authorities had yet to do so. “The revolution has triumphed again in Ecuador,” he said, dancing and singing onstage with Moreno at a rally Sunday evening.
But the government’s opponents demanded a recount and vowed to challenge the results in court. “The government they are trying to install will be an illegitimate one,” Lasso told his angry supporters. He warned Correa, “You’re playing with fire.”
The results appeared to be a reprieve for Julian Assange, whose asylum protection at Ecuador’s embassy in London was on the line. Lasso had said that if he won, he would evict Assange within 30 days from the embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder took refuge in 2012. Moreno has said he will let Assange stay.
“I cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days (with or without his tax haven millions),” Assange wrote in a Twitter post Sunday night, taunting Lasso with a reference to accusations the candidate has millions stashed in offshore accounts. Lasso has denied the allegations.
Lasso and his supporters began celebrating in the streets of the capital, waving flags and honking car horns wildly as soon as several exit polls showed him winning. Their euphoria switched to outrage when the official results showed Moreno leading. Lasso’s supporters gathered outside the headquarters of the country’s election authorities, then broke through police barricades and surged toward the building, with television cameras showing them facing off against riot police with shields.
Ecuador’s disputed outcome is one of several South American conflicts that have occurred in recent days, along with clashes in Venezuela and Paraguay.
Correa’s decade in power has left Ecuadorans sharply divided, and with his legacy on the line, his government threw its full weight behind the 64-year-old Moreno.
Lasso, 61, a former banker, offered Ecuadorans a message of change and bet that frustration about the country’s sagging economy and Correa’s heavy-handed style would lift him to an upset.
“We need new ideas. Everything is stagnant here,” said Luzmila ­Muñoz, 47, a chemical engineer who voted for Lasso in a middle-class sector of Quito. “Ten years is enough,” she said, referring to Correa.
Right-wing candidates have won recent presidential contests in Argentina and Peru, after a long period when left-wing populists such as Correa seemed invincible, using a commodity boom to increase social spending and cut poverty.
But with prices for oil and other exports slumping, the region has shifted to the right, and many leftists saw the mild-mannered Moreno as their best chance to break the trend. Moreno, who was shot during a 1998 carjacking, would be the first candidate who uses a wheelchair to win a presidential race in South America.
“He’ll fight for equality, because he knows what it’s like to be disadvantaged,” said Janet Bravo, 40, who cast her vote for Moreno in the hillside neighborhood of ­Comité del Pueblo. Bravo, who owns a small office supply shop, said she has been able to save money in recent years because the government provided her two young children with free health care.
Michael Shifter, president of ­Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, said Moreno’s apparent victory showed that left-wing governments in South America may be more resilient than many believe.
“Although Ecuador’s economic situation has recently worsened and there are serious questions about government corruption, most voters recognized advances in education, health care and especially infrastructure,” he said. “Moreno promised to give a new push and build on these gains.”
But the disputed, narrow results suggested that Moreno would face immediate challenges in governing a badly divided country in a region that has turned increasingly volatile.

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