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Ecuadorean presidential candidate Lenin Moreno (center) celebrates alongside Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (left) and his wife Rocio Gonzalez in Quito on April 2. Photo by Mariana Bazo/Reuters

Ecuador’s ruling leftist party celebrates win as opposition alleges fraud

Ecuador’s leftist ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno celebrated a narrow victory Monday following a contentious presidential run-off election, preserving the small, Andean nation’s status as one of South America’s remaining populist strongholds.

As Moreno, 64, pledged to build on the polarizing, populist policies of outgoing President Rafael Correa’s decade-long “Citizens’ Revolution,” right-wing opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso called for a recount. Thousands of Lasso supporters, yelling “fraud,” overran barricades outside the nation’s electoral headquarters in the capital, Quito. Others clashed with police in a handful of cities across the country following the closest election in the nation’s recent, notoriously turbulent, political history.

In addition to Correa, who’s eligible to run again in 2021, and pro-government supporters in Ecuador, Moreno’s win brought relief to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Correa granted Assange asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012a controversial move that Lasso vowed to undo and Moreno has said he would continue.

Correa tweeted the early results Sunday night which showed Moreno winning by two points and sought to quell calls for a recount by adding it was an “irreversible trend” and that the “Citizens’ Revolution had returned to triumph in Ecuador.” After Moreno failed to win February’s first round of voting outright, Correa alluded to an old constitutional rule that could be used to dissolve both congress and the executive branch and call for new elections if a new leader threatened to make the country “ungovernable.”

Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, a close ally of Correa’s who is currently fending off criticism after his country’s supreme court reversed a decision to dissolve the socialist state’s opposition-led congress, hailed Correa and Moreno’s “heroic victory.”

With 99 percent of all votes counted, Lenin leads with 51.15 percent and Lasso,with 48.85 percent, has refused to accept the results, calling for a recount and urging the vigilance of his supporters.

“We’re going to defend the will of the Ecuadorean people in the face of this fraud attempt,” he said Sunday night.

Correa and Moreno painted Lasso, a former banker, as an out of touch elite who contributed to the country’s still painful 1990s banking crisis. And Lasso was unsuccessful in his attempt to sway a sizable bloc of undecided voters among the 13 million Ecuadoreans eligible to vote in Sunday’s contest by denouncing Correa’s long-standing bond with Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro. Lasso criticized Moreno as “the Nicolas Maduro of Rafael Correa,” a serious allegation in a country where, regardless of political affiliation, citizens clung to the common refrain “at least we’re not Venezuela” during the uncertainty that followed that country’s oil bust.

But unusually strong flooding during the rainy season and a massive earthquake in 2016, which claimed more than 660 lives and injured 16,600 others, hit poor communities along the coast especially hard during the past several years. A strong voting bloc of Correa’s in the past, the region’s voters remained concerned about basic infrastructure. Since being elected on the heels of an economic crisis in 2006, Correa doubled social spending while tightening his control over opposing parties and public dissent as well as Ecuador’s press and judicial system during the oil boom. And in the runup to Sunday’s election, Correa touted the new schools, hospitals and other projects he brought to these coastal communities as successes of his self-proclaimed “21st century socialist revolution.”

Following his win, Moreno, who is wheelchair-bound from being shot by robbers in 1998, said, “I will be the president of everyone, but especially the poor.”

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