Right-wing former banker Guillermo Lasso and his left-wing indigenous leader Yaku Pérez both demanded a recount of Ecuador’s presidential election on Friday, as results showed a paper-thin margin between the two hopefuls.
Lasso, a career banker who wants close ties with Washington, holds a razor-thin margin over Perez, an environmentalist who opposes big mining projects.
After a meeting at the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Quito on Thursday, both candidates said they wanted to see ballots tallied again to rule out potential fraud in the first round of the general election, which took place last weekend.
"Our proposal is that this process be suspended until a count is given in the 24 provinces" of the country, Pérez said after the meeting, chaired by CNE head Diana Atamaint.
Representatives from the electoral authorities and international observers, including the Organisation of American States, also attended the summit.
Pérez, who maintains there was fraud which lowered his vote tally, said that Ecuador had “a historic opportunity to demonstrate to the country that there is no fraud, [and] that the electoral process was carried out with transparency."
"I support the proposal of candidate Yaku Pérez to the effect that, within the framework of the law, the count of the votes should be reviewed," Lasso said, agreeing with his rival.
Pérez, a 51-year-old environmental lawyer, shocked analysts by taking 19.38 percent of the vote. That pushed him back into third, despite being in second place for much of the week, with Lasso, 65, taking 19.74 percent.
One of the two hopefuls will contest the presidency in the second round against 36-year-old leftist economist Andrés Arauz, the preferred candidate of former socialist president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), who remains way out in front having taken 32.7 percent of votes, according to a preliminary vote count that covers 99.96 percent of polling stations.
Atamaint said Friday that the CNE has "the absolute responsibility” to order a recount and specified that Pérez's request must be analysed in full by the electoral authority.
"Unfortunately, this situation has occurred and it generates doubts among the public," she told the press, adding that the CNE had “nothing, absolutely nothing to hide" in view of the narrow difference between Lasso and Pérez.
The government of President Lenín Moreno, whose four-year term will end on May 24, has assured that it will have "the economic resources for the vote-counting process if necessary."
Ecuador faces a challenging period ahead, with the country mired in debt. The coronavirus epidemic has piled on the pressure even further, with some US$6.4 billion in losses attributed directly to the health crisis, according to government data.
The nation’s economy is forecast to contract 8.9 percent in 2020, while unemployment reached 8.6 percent last September – more than doubling in nine months.