QUITO – The biosecurity measures implemented to prevent super-spreader COVID-19 events at the polling places caused delays in the presidential vote in Ecuador on Sunday, but they did not prevent the balloting from being carried out without any major incidents, a vote in which 16 candidates were aspiring to succeed President Lenin Moreno next May and which is expected to head to a runoff between the two top vote-getters.
With the polls closing at 5:00 pm, election day was characterized in the country’s major cities by long lines at the polling places despite the pandemic, with Ecuador having confirmed more than 258,000 coronavirus cases and where the death toll so far exceeds 15,000, counting both confirmed and probable COVID-19 fatalities.
With the official preliminary results scheduled to be made public about three hours after the precincts closed, exit polling is showing that Andres Arauz won a plurality garnering more than 10 percent more votes than his center-right rival Guillermo Lasso, although he did not win an outright majority (or the 40 percent plurality that could have handed him the presidency) and thus a runoff vote will be needed in early April.
Exit polls indicate that Arauz – who is backed by former president Rafael Correa – obtained about 36.2 percent of the votes to Lasso’s 21.7 percent, according to Clima Social, while Cedatos found that Arauz obtained 34.9 percent and Lasso 20.9 percent.
Arauz wrote on the social networks after the release of the exit polls: “We win! Resounding win in all regions of our beautiful country. Our victory is 2 to 1 over the banker,” referring to Lasso, who is a stockholder in the Guayaquil Bank.
Arauz added: “We congratulate the Ecuadorian people for this democratic ‘fiesta.’ We’re awaiting official results so we can go out and celebrate.”
The biosafety measures put in place to protect the public from asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers coming to the polls to cast their ballots are what caused the long lines outside the polling places, while inside people by and large maintained social distancing, although oversize crowds were reported in some facilities.
“What’s the use of being outside and social distancing if we get inside and we can’t maintain the 2-meter distancing? It’s disorganization on the part of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which should have set up another precinct; there are other places near here” that would have served, Betty Guerrero, who had to wait in line for two hours to vote, told EFE.
The director of the Comprehensive Security Service (ECU 911), Juan Zapata, said that the elections were occurring amid an unprecedented scenario and he called on the public to keep calm and maintain social distancing.
The long lines began forming early Sunday morning, when problems were also reported in the staffing at some polling places, another situation that delayed the start of voting at almost half the precincts, the CNE said.
Milenia Bravo, the head of one precinct in Quito, told EFE that, at first, she and her staff had had to get organized, but since then and throughout the day things had progressed normally.
But some citizens complained about waiting in line for up to three hours to get into the polling places, with sales of any kind – food, water, etc. – being prohibited in the immediate vicinity of the precincts, according to Ecuadorian custom.
“It’s terrible, badly organized. I think that if there had been food sales there would have been less contact than now. Everyone here is cutting into line, fighting and you waste time,” Oscar Peñaherrera said at one of the precincts in Quito.
In addition, he complained that “Sometimes there’s nobody in the polling place and the people outside are fighting for a place (in line), causing more contact than before, under normal conditions.”
The CNE repeatedly called on the public to wear their facemasks and bring their own pens and rubbing alcohol with which to disinfect themselves and their voting booth, and CNE president Diana Atamaint expressed surprise at the number of voters who turned out despite the pandemic.
Most of the candidates exercised their right to vote early in the day.
Lasso, who voted in Guayaquil, said he was sure that there would be a second round between the two top vote-getting candidates in Sunday’s balloting, adding that he would win an “overwhelming” victory in any runoff.
“The key is change. All Ecuadorians want a change so that a model … that has failed in all countries of the world that have implemented it … will not be adopted (here),” the Socialism for the 21st Century opposition figure, who served in former president Correa’s Cabinet, said.
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Arauz, who because he is registered to vote in Mexico cannot vote in Ecuador, expressed his certainty that he would win an outright majority in the first voting round.
“Winning in a single round is possible if we turn out to defend the vote of Ecuadorians and are vigilant about seeing to it that the popular will is fulfilled,” he said after accompanying his 106-year-old grandmother to her polling station.
The third candidate given a decent chance by recent voter surveys to do well in Sunday’s vote, a member of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples, Yaku Perez, cast his ballot in a rural district in Cuenca, where after voting he insisted that his candidacy is one “of the people.”
The Clima Social and Cedatos exit polls gave Perez 16.7 and 17.9 percent of the votes, respectively.
A total of 16 presidential candidates – 15 men and one woman, Ximena Peña – faced off in Sunday’s vote, leading to fears that a substantial fracturing of the overall vote would ensure a runoff – to be held, if needed, on April 11.
A first-round win could occur in two ways: if a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes or if a candidate wins more than 40 percent of the vote but beats their closest rival by more than 10 percentage points.
Peña urged the public to head to the polls while observing all recommended biosecurity measures.
Also running for president in Sunday’s contest are former President Lucio Gutierrez, Gerson Almeida, Isidro Romero, Xavier Hervas, Pedro Jose Freile, Gustavo Larrea, Guillermo Celi, Juan Fernando Velasco, Paul Carrasco, Cesar Montufar, Giovanny Andrade and Carlos Sagñay, all of whom have only very limited prospects of making it to Carondelet Palace, the seat of government.
Besides electing a president and vice president, the more than 13 million registered Ecuadorian voters are also choosing the members of the National Assembly and designating five members of the Andean Parliament.