With 94 percent of the vote counted, Lenin defeated former banker Guillermo Lasso, candidate for the right-wing alliance with 51.15 percent to 48.85 percent, according to results issued by the country’s National Electoral Council on Sunday at 8:20 p.m. The CNE said it was a transparent and successful election process. A victory for Moreno means that Assange will be safe from expulsion from Ecuador's London embassy for the immediate future.
Meanwhile, Lasso has disputed the result and asked for a recount, setting the stage for potential protests in the historically turbulent Andean nation.
"They've toyed with popular will," former banker Lasso told Ecuadorean television on Sunday night, asking for a recount and saying he was the real winner of the vote.
It may be the worst possible news for Julian Assange. Or the best, depending on which exit poll of the Ecuador presidential election is right.
With the results of the Ecuador presidential run-off race set to be announced in hours, two exit polls projected two different winners in a tight election in OPEC's smallest member nation on Sunday evening, sparking celebrations in the rival camps of a leftist government-backed candidate and a former banker. As Reuters reports, the final results could take days to tabulate, the electoral council has warned, in a race that could extend a decade of leftist rule or usher in more business-friendly policies in the oil-rich Andean country.
According to one exit poll, conservative challenger Guillermo Lasso had 53.02% of votes versus 46.98% for government-backed Lenin Moreno, an exit poll by leading pollster Cedatos showed on Sunday afternoon. With Cedatos considered one of the most trustworthy polls, the Lasso camp broke into cheers, with supporters waving flags and honking horns in wealthier northern Quito.
"Today a new Ecuador is born, the Ecuador of democracy, the Ecuador of freedom," Lasso told a crowd chanting: "Lasso President!" in his sweltering coastal hometown, Guayaquil.
Meanwhile, a separate exit poll by Perfiles de Opinion showed Moreno with 52.2% of the vote versus 47.8% for Lasso. Moreno was more measured, telling supporters in Quito: "We have a very trustworthy lead." He urged Ecuadoreans to await final results.
The results will have substantial geopolitical implications, and South America is watching closely to see if Ecuador will follow Argentina, Brazil and Peru in shifting to the right as a commodities boom ends.
But the polarized country is also bracing for potential unrest after a tense campaign. Both candidates have called for their supporters to take to the street and "defend the vote."
The two contenders could not be more different.
Moreno, 64, a paraplegic former vice-president, just missed the minimum threshold to win the presidency in the first round in February, and polls leading up to Sunday's runoff showed him leading Lasso. Moreno, who has used a wheelchair since being shot during a robbery in 1998, has promised to boost social benefits to single mothers, pensioners and disabled Ecuadoreans while being more conciliatory than the mercurial Correa.
Lasso, a 61-year-old former head of Banco de Guayaquil who has campaigned on creating one million jobs in four years, argues that Moreno's generous social promises risk plunging Ecuador's economy further into debt. He also accuses the ruling Country Alliance party of covering up corruption scandals, stifling media, and stacking institutions with supporters in the vein of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a Correa ally. As Reuters notes, Venezuela's political upheaval cast a shadow over Ecuador's vote, with Lasso supporters fearing their country could turn the way of the crisis-hit nation.
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But the biggest reason why the presidential election is being closely watched by the international community is that its outcome may seal the fate of Julian Assange.
Lasso, who according to the Cedatos poll is the winner, has vowed that if he wins the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the Ecuador embassy in London will be up. Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate”, because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers.
Meanwhile, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said.
As the Guardian wrote on March 31 ahead of Sunday's election, the Australian’s legal team are extremely worried.
“We are obviously very concerned that any candidate would threaten to undermine the protection that the Ecuadorian state has granted Julian,” said Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers who is a member of Assange’s UK legal team. “No government should play politics with the granting of asylum. It’s a legal protection provided for under international law, Ecuador has granted that protection, they have recognised him as a refugee, and now they have obligations to protect him whatever happens in the elections.”
Assange’s team are reluctant to be drawn on what legal avenues they might be able to pursue, but he is understood to have instructed lawyers in Quito, while others are looking at whether they may have potential options through the Inter-American and European courts of human rights.
Making matters for Assange worse, British authorities are adamant that, should Assange leave the embassy under any circumstances, he will be immediately arrested and sent to Sweden, which has been seeking to extradite him over an allegation of rape dating from 2010, which Assange denies.
In short, Assange’s best hope in the short term, is a Moreno victory. If that does not happen as at least one poll suggests, international human rights groups might rally in his defence, or WikiLeaks might uncover material to put pressure on Lasso. But according to Arturo Moscoso, an Ecuadorian lawyer and academic, Assange should not expect Ecuadorian public opinion to come to the rescue: “For many it’s a headache.”
“No organisation, no law and no person can prevent the president from revoking the status of political asylum.” Assange’s asylum was granted by a presidential decree and could just as easily be removed by one, he said.
Curiously, while many have implied Russian "interference" in every major recent geopolitical event, from the Brexit vote, to the US presidential election, to the upcoming elections in France and Germany, few have discussed whether or not the Kremlin would be "manipulating" the results of the Ecuador presidential election, especially since the fate of one of the men rumored to have been collaborating with Putin, Julian Assange, is now on the line and could result in a protracted prison sentence.
Then again, it's just one exit poll, which as recent events have demonstrated, can be painfully wrong. One person - the founder of Wikileaks - will spend the night praying that it is.