Leftist candidate Lenin Moreno leads Ecuador's presidential vote, but may face a runoff

Former Vice President Lenin Moreno, a leftist advocate for the disabled who was paralyzed in a 1998 robbery attempt, was leading a crowded field in Ecuador’s presidential election Sunday, but was at risk of falling just short of avoiding a runoff on April 2.

Moreno, 63, is a close ally of outgoing President Rafael Correa, under whom he served as vice president from 2007 to 2013.

With more than three-quarters of the votes counted, Moreno had 39% of the vote, about 10 percentage points ahead of  second-place finisher Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business bank executive. The two led a field of eight candidates.

To avoid a runoff, Moreno, who has spent the last three years as a special United Nations advocate for the disabled, needed either 50% plus one of all votes cast, or 40% if he finished at least 10 percentage points ahead of the next highest vote-getter.

Right-of-center congresswoman Cynthia Viteri, 51, was running in third place with about 16%.

As vice president, Moreno oversaw a program that brought financial and medical aid to 300,000 disabled Ecuadoreans.

Correa was elected three times and has served as president for more than 10 years, earning widespread support among the poor and intellectuals for policies aiding the impoverished. But a stagnant economy, widespread corruption, running battles with the press and an autocratic governing style recently have distanced many Ecuadoreans from their leader.  A majority now believe he is untrustworthy.

Although Moreno has promised to continue Correa’s policies, he has said that, if elected, he will be a more conciliatory leader and be less antagonistic to the press.

“This is a clear and unquestionable victory for the Citizen Revolution,” Moreno said during a brief news conference after polls closed, a reference to Correa’s socialist agenda. He added that Correa has governed with “dignity and transparency.” He invited the opposition to join with him to achieve “great national objectives.”

No violent incidents were reported in this Andean country where balloting by 12.8 million eligible voters is obligatory. 

Interviewed as he left a Quito polling station, retired factory worker Guillermo Venegas, 63, said he voted for Moreno because he wanted Correa’s programs to continue. “Today I voted for the continued restructuring of Ecuador and I hope that my support will be reflected in an improved social reality,” he said.

Pablo Rosero, a 40-year-old financial analyst, said he supported Lasso because he wanted change from Correa’s socialist project. “Ten years is enough. The best option is Lasso because he would be the strongest opponent to the government.”

Voters also elected all 137 National Assembly members on Sunday.

Special correspondents Jaramillo Viteri and Kraul reported from Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

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UPDATES:

8:05 p.m.: Updates with voting results.

This article was originally posted at 6:15 p.m.

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