(Advisory to clients: Ecuadorean laws prohibit the publishing
of polls in the country 10 days before the election)
By Alexandra Ulmer and Alexandra Valencia
QUITO, March 30 An ally of leftist President
Rafael Correa and a right-wing former bank boss are battling to
become Ecuador's next president in Sunday's election after a
tense and tight campaign in the historically volatile Andean
With a sputtering economy the top voter concern, Ecuadoreans
will chose between continuing a decade of leftist rule or
following several South American nations in shifting towards a
more pro-business government as a commodities boom ends.
Lenin Moreno, 64, a paraplegic former vice-president, just
missed the minimum threshold to win the presidency in the first
round in February, and latest polls show him narrowly beating
conservative rival Guillermo Lasso this time around.
Moreno, who uses a wheelchair since being shot during a
robbery in 1998, has promised to boost social benefits to single
mothers, pensioners and the disabled.
He paints his opponent as an elitist who would slash welfare
policies and links him to a 1999 financial crisis when hundreds
of thousands of Ecuadoreans lost their savings.
"We've come so far. Now we're going to improve further,"
Moreno told crowds at a recent rally in Ecuador's sweltering
"Say no the banker!" he also said of Lasso, whom foes accuse
of using shady offshore holdings to dodge taxes. "(He) wants to
submit Ecuadoreans to instability and permanent conflict."
Lasso, a 61-year-old former head of Banco de Guayaquil who
has campaigned on boosting jobs, retorts Moreno is recklessly
over-promising considering Ecuador's highly indebted economy.
He also accuses the ruling Country Alliance party of
covering up corruption scandals, stifling media, and stacking
institutions with their supporters.
"Say no to those who want to turn us into Venezuela!" Lasso
told hundreds of cheering supporters during his closing speech
in a low-income part of Quito on Wednesday, alluding to food
shortages and spiraling inflation under Venezuelan President
Nicolas Maduro, a Correa ally.
In addition to vowing a tough line against Maduro, Lasso has
also promised to remove Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from
the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Polls show Moreno has pulled ahead of Lasso in the last
weeks. He had 52.4 percent of valid votes versus Lasso's 47.6
percent in a 18-21 March survey by leading pollster Cedatos with
a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points and some 16 percent
of voters still undecided.
For a factbox on the candidates, please see:
ECUADOR ON EDGE
With both camps urging supporters to take to the streets to
guard against possible fraud, the nation of 16 million is
bracing for protests after a decade of relative stability.
Three of eight presidents were toppled in the decade before
Correa came to power in 2007. While Correa brought calm to the
smallest member of OPEC, opponents accuse him of morphing into
Hundreds of suspicious Lasso supporters massed in front of
the electoral council after results were slow to trickle out in
February's first round. And Lasso accused government-paid thugs
of trying to attack him with rocks, sticks, and knives after a
soccer game on Tuesday. The government rejected the accusation.
Should Lasso win, he could also face trouble governing, as
the ruling leftist party has a majority in Congress.
"Opposition to his policies will be relatively high right
off the bat," Eurasia analyst Risa Grais-Targow in a note to
"Lasso would try to move quickly towards more orthodox
macroeconomic policies aimed at attracting foreign direct
investment, including a reduction in corporate taxes,
eliminating the tax on capital outflows, eliminating emergency
tariffs, and engaging with the IMF and other multi-laterals."
While Moreno, a soft-spoken former U.N. envoy on disability,
has a more moderate style than Correa, observers question how
much autonomy he will have. A depressed economy and uncertainty
over how he will finance his raft of promised benefits could
also lead to early trouble.
Either way, both presidents will have to wrestle with strong
voter demand for jobs.
"Even when we go out to look for work, we can't find any,"
said construction worker Marco Manotoa, 23, who has been
unemployed for three months and plans to vote Lasso. "The
country needs change."
The new president will take office on May 24 for a four-year
(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and