QUITO (Reuters) – Leftist Ecuadorean economist Andres Arauz was headed on Monday for a presidential run-off election, while a surprise surge in support for an indigenous anti-mining activist made the race for the number two spot too close to call.
Indigenous leader Yaku Perez shocked the establishment by placing neck and neck with pro-market candidate Guillermo Lasso for second place and the right to stand against Arauz in the April 11 run-off.
With nearly 98% of the vote counted, Perez led Lasso by less than a quarter of a percentage point, making a recount likely. Arauz had 32.19%, Perez 19.81% and Lasso 19.60%.
Perez said on Monday that his vote count in three provinces was well behind the vote count for his party in the legislature, which he described as evidence of vote tampering. He did not present evidence of fraud.
“Let’s open the ballot boxes in Manabi, Guayas and Pichincha,” Perez said at a news conference, referring to the three provinces, accompanied by supporters who shouted “democracy yes, fraud no.”
The elections council’s website says 13% of poll statements show some type of inconsistency, meaning they would have to be reviewed once all of the votes are counted.
It marked the best-ever showing for an indigenous presidential candidate and throws open a race that had been defined for months by the ideological rift between free marketeers and socialists.
Prices for Ecuadorean debt remained steady, as financial markets had already priced in Arauz’s advancement to the next round.
Arauz had sparked a bond sell-off in January by saying he would refuse to recognize a $6.5 billion IMF financing package. But prices rallied last week after Arauz told investors that he would in fact renegotiate the deal.
“We think Arauz’s willingness to cooperate with the IMF and seek a new agreement is rather positive,” said Carlos de Sousa, emerging market debt portfolio manager with Vontobel Asset Management. “We expect Arauz to be considerably more pragmatic than the market initially thought.”
Ecuador’s 2040 bond added around 9% last week, according to Refinitiv data.
Perez and his supporters began a vigil on Sunday night outside a Quito hotel where election authorities were counting votes, vowing to prevent voter fraud.
Lasso, in a celebratory rally in his home city of Guayaquil, vowed that a full review of poll statements would show he would make the run-off.
Either candidate could request hand recounts.
Arauz, 36, a protege of former president Rafael Correa, has promised to make direct cash payments of $1,000 to 1 million families upon taking office.
Lasso has promised to spur the economy with increased foreign investment and tax reductions.
Perez’s activism has focused on protecting rivers from mining. He has promised to balance the country’s fiscal accounts by recovering funds that he says were stolen under previous governments.
Also making a surprise showing was little-known businessman, Xavier Hervas, a center-left candidate who drew 16% of the vote despite never having run for office.
President Lenin Moreno, a former Correa ally who was elected in 2017, did not seek a second term.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Brian Ellsworth; additional reporting by Tom Arnold in London, Editing by Peter Graff and Rosalba O’Brien)