Left-wing candidate Lenín Moreno bucked Latin America’s regional trend to the right in Sunday’s election for Ecuador’s presidency, taking victory over opponent Guillermo Lasso by 51 percent to 49 percent.
His win was immediately met by a demand for a recount by his defeated right-wing challenger, but Moreno insisted that he would proceed without delay with the transition from President Rafael Correa.
Moreno’s tight run-off victory followed his earlier win in the first round of voting in which he emerged with nearly 40 percent in an eight-candidate race.
“It’s a decisive moment for the region because of the extreme right wing’s reaction in recent years. Ecuadorean elections are very important,” the outgoing Correa said at a polling station in the capital Quito.
Moreno, whose father named him Lenín after the Russian revolutionary leader, was backed in the election by the ruling PAIS Alliance set up by his predecessor. “It’s time for peace and union. Everyone will have a new opportunity and we will seek dialogue and harmony. Our hand is outstretched,” he said.
The president-elect, who has used a wheelchair since he was shot and paralyzed during a robbery in 1998, is well-known and respected for his advocacy work for people with disabilities and supporting state education.
He has pledged to continue to expanding social programs introduced by President Correa, whom he served as vice-president from 2007 to 2013, before working as UN Special Envoy for Disability and Accessibility.
Initial allegations of fraud by Lasso, Moreno’s wealthy banker opponent, sparked some street activity by his supporters, but the hollowness of the claims and public awareness that he would brandish such charges if defeated robbed the protests of momentum.
The election was overseen by Union of South American Nations (USAN) observers headed by former Uruguayan president José “Pepe” Mujica, who confirmed that the voting had been transparent. Even the Organization of American States (OAS), seen as an opponent of many left-wing governments in the region as of late, said it saw “no discrepancies” between the announced results and its observations at polling stations.
Foreign Minister Guillaume Long called the result “a positive endorsement of our plan to create a more equal Ecuador.
We have made great strides in social progress in the past decade and we will now continue to do so for the next four years.”
The vote came as a relief to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faced being expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London if Lasso had won the run-off.
Moreno’s victory was a boost also for the Latin American left, which is reeling after several defeats at the hands of right-wing opposition forces, including in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. As the boom in oil and other commodities flagged, many economies in the region suffered, hurting the social budgets of leftist governments.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, facing an intense political crisis of his own, eagerly welcome Moreno’s victory. He congratulated Moreno and said the win represented a triumph for “the citizen’s revolution.”
Bolivian leader Evo Morales also joined in, tweeting, “21st century socialism always triumphs, congratulations brother Lenin!”
As the results were announced in the capital Sunday night, flag-waving crowds greeted the 64-year-old Moreno with chants of “Lenín Presidente!”
His administration will assume office on May 24.
This story combines information from Morning Star and international wire services.