Millions of people in Ecuador are set to cast their ballots in a presidential runoff election, which pits the ruling party’s candidate Lenin Moreno against conservative Guillermo Lasso.
The election is to be held on Sunday, with 12.8 million Ecuadorians eligible to vote at more than 40,000 polling stations.
The two rival candidates are the finalists of the first round of the election on February 19, when Lasso finished second with 28 percent of the vote compared to socialist Moreno’s 39 percent. Recent polls, however, have given the opposition candidate a slight edge heading into the runoff.
The Sunday vote is being closely monitored amid a wider trend in Latin American politics in recent months to tilt to the right. Ecuador’s leftist government under President Rafael Correa has lost ground amid an economic downturn and growing corruption accusations.
Ecuador registered an annual economic growth of 4.4 percent on average during the first eight years of Correa’s tenure before plunging into recession in mid-2015. The leftist leader, nevertheless, won an unprecedented third term in an election back in February 2013.
In his final campaign rally in the capital Quito last week, 64-year-old Moreno thanked his supporters and said, “I make a frank call for peace and respect the will of the people, no matter who they favor.”
Lasso, for his part, rejected any act of violence and called on Ecuadorians not to abstain from voting, saying, “Make your will be respected, and after voting, we will take to the streets to defend the will of the people.”
The election can potentially be consequential for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.
Correa, the incumbent president and an outspoken critic of the United States, permitted Assange to stay at the embassy to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden over sexual harassment charges. Assange, who denies the charges, says the extradition to Sweden would be a precursor to a handover to the US, where he is sought for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
Lasso, 61, has vowed that if he wins the presidency, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up and he would “cordially ask Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate.”