Ecuador weighs returning to socialism in presidential runoff | Reuters

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QUITO (Reuters) -Ecuadoreans voted in a presidential runoff on Sunday to decide whether to maintain the pro-market policies of the last four years or return to the socialism of the preceding decade as the Andean country seeks to revive its stagnant economy.

A woman casts her vote in the second round of the presidential election, in Guayaquil, Ecuador April 11, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Fernanda Landin

Left-wing economist Andres Arauz is offering cash handouts and a return to the socialist policies of his mentor, former President Rafael Correa who is living in Europe and has been convicted on graft charges. Banker Guillermo Lasso is promising open markets and renewed foreign investment to create jobs.

The vote is being closely watched by foreign investors, who say Arauz’s social spending plans are ambitious in the face of the government’s delicate financial situation and a weak economy that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“At the last minute I decided on Lasso, I think he is the only option,” said Margarita Alvarado, 42, a manicurist voting at a school in Quito. “I don’t want to go back to the arrogance, to the corruption, to the handouts of the past decade.”

Disappointment in the candidates appeared to be reflected in a thin turnout.

A mere 45% of registered voters had cast ballots by mid-afternoon, National Electoral Council President Diana Atamaint said in a televised broadcast, urging citizens to vote to “give legitimacy to the next elected authorities.”

Results are expected on Sunday night. The new president will take office on May 24.

The oil-exporting nation’s economy was already weak due to low crude prices when the coronavirus outbreak started. The pandemic has pushed a third of the population of more than 17 million into poverty and left half a million people unemployed.

President Lenin Moreno, who did not seek re-election, imposed painful austerity measures as part of a $6.5 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund, but was unable to kick-start the economy.

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LEFTIST CONSOLIDATION

A win for Arauz would follow recent electoral victories for the left in Latin America in nations such as Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.

He has offered to give $1,000 to a million families as soon as he takes office, and provide benefits to young people such as free internet access.

Lasso is promising to create jobs through foreign investment and financial support for the agricultural sector.

Both candidates are calling on supporters to “take care of the votes” and denounce irregularities on voting day and during the vote tallying process.

Indigenous activist Yaku Perez, who narrowly lost out to Lasso for a slot in the runoff, is calling on supporters to spoil their ballots to protest what he called electoral fraud in the first round.

“I don’t trust either of the candidates, they have both been corrupted by the usual political parties,” said Mirella Parraga, 43, a homemaker, after voting null at a polling station in central Guayaquil, the country’s biggest city.

“I don’t want to give my vote to someone who will make the situation in this country worse.”

Ecuador in 2000 dollarized the economy amid a banking crisis and spiraling inflation.

The global oil boom helped Correa finance generous social welfare programs that fueled his popularity and allowed him to stay in office until 2017, but years of heavy borrowing ultimately put a strain on the government’s finances.

Moreno, once Correa’s vice president, quickly parted with the socialist economic policies.

An Ecuadorean court in 2020 sentenced Correa to eight years in prison on charges he received millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for public contracts. Correa, who lives in Belgium, accuses Moreno of using the justice system to pursue him.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Additional reporting by Yury Garcia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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