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    Long lines as Ecuador votes in tight presidential election

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    The leftist economist Andrés Arrouz and conservative Guillermo Lasso are the clear front between the 16 presidential candidates.

    Long queues were lined up outside polling stations in Ecuador, as voters turned out to elect a new president in an election in the shadow of a severe economic crisis, and expressed dissatisfaction over dealing with the coronovirus epidemic.

    By Sunday’s vote, 13.1 million voters from the South American nation would choose the successor of unpopular socialist President Lenin Moreno, as well as electing constituency lawmakers to fill 137 seats in the national assembly.

    Opinion polls show leftist economist Andres Araz and conservative Guillermo Lasso with a clear front among 16 presidential candidates, with Yaku Perez, the indigenous rights campaigner in the far third.

    Experts say that it is unlikely that any candidate will reach 40 percent support and gain at least a 10-point lead over their opponents, which is essential for an accurate win. This means that on 11 April there is a possibility of a runoff between the top two challengers.

    “Today Ecuador wins and democracy wins,” said Diana Ataman, president of the National Electoral Council, as she announced the start of Election Day at a ceremony in the capital Quito after the polls opened at 7 am (12:00 GMT).

    Voters wearing face masks as a precaution against COVID-19 arrived at a time when the country is reeling from a resurgence of infections, which has exacerbated Ecuador’s economic troubles. So far, the epidemic has claimed some 15,000 lives and infected over 257,000.

    Ecuadorians waited in long lines to cast their ballots, with delays due to coronovirus-related limitations, the number of people allowed at a time.

    “Voters are getting discouraged by very long lines,” Enrique Peeta, vice-chairman of the National Electoral Council, told during a televised update how the vote was moving.

    Moreno, who is not seeking re-election, his single term in office would be extremely unpopular. His approval ratings have long been hovering at around 7 percent, down from 77 percent in his first months in office.

    In 2017, the outgoing president was chosen as the successor to Rafael Correa, who raised public spending, cut ties with international lending institutions and supported integration with other socialist countries in the region.

    But soon after he was elected, Moreno changed course and followed more trade-friendly policies, such as the reduction of taxes for international mining investors and Ecuador’s foreign debt and fiscal deficit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. To obtain loan to fund

    Arruz, a group from Koreya, has promised to make $ 1bn in direct cash payments to families and to end the terms of the $ 6.5bn IMF financing package.

    “I’m excited by the comfort and encouragement of the high voter,” Arrauz tweeted on Saturday afternoon. “It is a celebration of national unity and hope of taking back the future of the country.”

    Ecuador’s presidential candidate Andres Arrouz, during his closing campaign, gestured to supporters in gestures in Quito, Ecuador ahead of the February 7 presidential election [Johanna Alarcon/Reuters]

    His main rival, Lasso, has promised to clamp down on corruption – a nod to Koreya, who was convicted in 2020 of violations of campaign finance laws, and the Moreno government – and proposed an international anti-corruption commission.

    At least nine public hospitals are being investigated for embezzlement during the epidemic.

    In his third presidential race, free-market lawyer Lasso has said that he will create one million jobs a year. The former bankers will likely cling to the austerity policies adopted by Moreno, who have had to curb spending in return for IMF loans to accelerate the faltering dollar-based economy of the oil-producing nation.

    Voters say the possibility of low voter turnout due to the epidemic may dent their support.

    For the first time in 15 years, indigenous contender Perez is polling 12 percent. The remaining 12 candidates are on less than 4 percent, with Ximena Pena the only woman on the list.

    Emiliano Pibek, a taxi driver in Quito, said he planned to vote Arauze. In the last election, he expected Moreno that conditions would improve – but instead, he said, they worsened.

    “Because they say Koreya stole and [did] Many other things, but in fact they carried out many public functions, while the current government did nothing but harass the opponents, ”he told Al Jazeera.

    Ecuador is flown into debt as the profits from the oil boom during the dried-up crude presidency under Moreno as the price of crude falls.

    During Moreno’s tenure, the national debt of gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 26 percent to 44 percent.

    According to government data, the coronovirus epidemic has directly contributed to the health crisis, with a loss of $ 6.4 billion.

    Ecuador’s economy is projected to contract 8.9 percent in 2020, while unemployment reached 8.6 percent last September – more than double in nine months.

    Supporters of Ecuador’s presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso gathered before his closing campaign rally in Guayaquil, Ecuador on 4 February [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

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