Ecuador presidential candidates launch campaign for April 11 runoff

March 16, 2021 5:31 PM EDT

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso addresses the media during the presidential election, in Guayaquil, Ecuador February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Fernanda Landin


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QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's presidential candidates launched their campaigns on Tuesday for an April 11 runoff that will determine whether the Andean nation maintains the free-market policies of the past four years or returns to the socialism of the prior decade.

Left-wing economist Andres Arauz and conservative banker Guillermo Lasso are seeking to win over voters who supported more than a dozen candidates with varying political views in the first round of voting on Feb. 7.

Although Arauz beat Lasso in the first round by more than 10 percentage points, no polls have yet been released showing how they would fare in April, and many of the country's voters are still undecided.

Ecuadoreans are weary from austerity measures linked to an International Monetary Fund package that added pain to an already difficult situation created by the outbreak of the coronavirus last year.

The current president, Lenin Moreno, who defeated Lasso in a 2017 runoff, is not seeking another term.

Arauz, a protégé of former President Rafael Correa, has promised to give $1,000 each to a million poor families, and is now offering to provide benefits to young people including jobs, scholarships and free internet access.

"The final stretch begins today," Arauz tweeted. "I am prepared to transform the outrage of our people into hope."

Lasso, a three-time presidential candidate, has offered to hold talks with indigenous leader Yaku Perez, who narrowly finished third to him in the first round.

Perez, who alleged fraud in the first round and is still seeking a recount, has said he will not support any candidate in the runoff. Indigenous organization CONAIE is calling on voters to spoil their ballots in protest.

Official results from the first round showed Arauz won 32.7% of the vote, while Lasso received 19.74% and Perez had 19.39%. Some 10% of votes cast were declared invalid.

Lasso has adjusted his conservative discourse to include promises of greater equity for women in the workplace, defense of animal rights and ending discrimination over sexual orientation.

But he still faces resistance because of his banking background.

"We are facing a historic opportunity to change for the better and create a country," Lasso told a virtual event in Quito.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)



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