QUITO – Ecuador’s two remaining presidential hopefuls – leftist Andres Arauz and conservative Guillermo Lasso – kicked off their campaigns for the April 11 runoff by promising on Tuesday to chart a path out of the country’s severe, pandemic-fueled economic crisis.
Arauz handily came out on top in the first round of balloting on Feb. 7 with 32.7 percent of the vote, but fell well short of the 40 percent (with a 10-percentage-point margin of victory) needed for an outright win, while Lasso received 19.74 percent of the ballots.
A third candidate, Yaku Perez, narrowly missed out a place in the runoff with 19.39 percent of the vote in a first-round contest he says was marred by fraud.
“We’re going to work to promote investment and job creation in Ecuador,” Lasso said in a speech on Tuesday during a meeting with groups of indigenous people and rural laborers in Cutuglagua, a district located just south of Quito.
Outgoing President Lenin Moreno, whose term ends on May 24, is not seeking reelection.
Voters, therefore, must choose between Arauz, who represents a return to the political project of former president Rafael Correa, or the neoliberal (market-led) approach of Lasso, a three-time candidate of the Creating Opportunities movement.
Lasso, a 65-year-old businessman, said on Tuesday he will promote investment in infrastructure and local roads and work to ensure that small farmers, small ranchers and artisans have access to 30-year loans at a 1 percent interest rate.
He also pledged to bring about unity, saying Ecuador must cast aside its “culture of hate, division, insults, stigmatization, discrimination and racism.”
The April contest bears much similarity to the 2017 election, although Correa’s vice president and hand-picked successor, Moreno, moved to reverse virtually all of his mentor’s initiatives and programs after winning election on a promise to maintain them.
Ecuador’s election is being held amid a largely pandemic-triggered economic crisis and a sluggish inoculation drive, with only 120,000 people in a country of 17 million having received an initial vaccine dose.
Arauz, candidate of the Union for Hope coalition, also gathered with his supporters on Tuesday in Quito, where he helped clean up garbage on the banks of a stream and walked the streets of the capital’s north side.
Protecting the environment also means “caring for water sources, rivers, having clean-up policies … complemented by a big environmental education policy. Moving toward a society less dependent on fossil fuels,” the 36-year-old American- and Mexican-trained economist said.
Arauz accused Moreno of being a lackey of banking and business interests and pledged to put Ecuador on a different course.
“I’m ready to transform our people’s outrage into hope. We’ll emerge from this crisis accompanied by a new generation, united and without hatred,” he wrote on Twitter.
The candidate also promised to reactivate Ecuador’s economy by providing struggling families with much-needed relief in the form of “direct and immediate aid and debt restructuring.”
The two rivals will square off in a debate on Sunday in which they will offer their competing visions on issues including the economy, health, education, human development and international relations.