The top candidate in Sunday’s ballot Andres Arauz, presidential candidate for the United for Hope Alliance or UNES, speaks at a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 9, 2021.
The top candidate in Sunday’s ballot Andres Arauz, presidential candidate for the United for Hope Alliance or UNES, speaks at a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 9, 2021.

QUITO - Leftist economist Andres Arauz will face conservative Guillermo Lasso in the upcoming second round of Ecuador's presidential election, officials said Sunday, in a vote marred by fraud allegations and taking place amid a worsening economic crisis.

Thirty-six-year-old Arauz won the first round with 32.72 percent of the vote — not enough to win outright.

His opponent in the second round will be ex-banker Lasso, who took 19.74 percent to beat left-wing indigenous leader Yaku Perez' 19.39 percent, according to the final results of the February 7 poll.

The runoff will take place on April 11, after the first round results were approved by four out of the five members of the National Electoral Council (CNE) at a meeting that lasted into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Perez, a 51-year-old environmental lawyer, had formally submitted a request for a recount in 17 of the country's 24 provinces, which was suspended on Wednesday.

He has alleged there was fraud to keep him out of the run-off after he was narrowly displaced by Lasso from second to third place in the middle of the count.

Perez could still mount a legal challenge against the official results.

"Today democracy has triumphed, we are going with courage and optimism to this second round," Lasso said in a statement following the announcement.

Incumbent President Lenin Moreno, whose term in office ends on May 24, did not seek reelection.

Ideological battle

Arauz is the protégé of Rafael Correa, a leftist two-time former president currently living in Belgium to evade a conviction for corruption and who remains an influential force in the country.

Esteban Nichols, a political scientist at Quito's Simon Bolivar Andean University, told AFP that Arauz had retained his mentor's electoral base.

"He himself is not the one generating the votes," he said. "People voted for Correa."

The first round result, he added, sets the scene not just for a battle between left and right, but for a "fight between Correism and anti-Correism."

To win, Lasso will have to "seek alliances with antagonists" — such as supporters of Perez.

Running in his third presidential race, free market advocate Lasso has promised to create a million jobs in a year.

He would likely stick to the austerity policies adopted by Moreno, who had to rein in spending in exchange for International Monetary Fund loans to bolster the oil-producing country's faltering dollar-based economy.

Ecuador has been mired in debt since the profits of an oil boom during Correa's presidency dried up under Moreno as the global price of crude crashed.

National debt rose from 26 percent of GDP to 44 percent during Moreno's term.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the pressure on the economy, with some $6.4 billion in losses attributed directly to the health crisis, according to government data.