By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – Ecuadorians went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president while attempting to deal with the crippling social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
With 98% of the votes counted, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso secured 52.49% of the vote while socialist economist Andres Arauz finished with 47.51%, according to results published by the National Electoral Council.
“Together we made it, today Ecuador won,” Lasso wrote on Twitter.
Lasso has used his experience as a banker and businessman to promote open market policies, with which he has promised to create thousands of jobs and improve the wages of Ecuadorians.
During the presidential campaign, he said he would generate two million jobs in his four years of government and progressively reduce taxes. He has repeatedly described the socialist model as a "failure."
Left-wing presidential candidate Arauz conceded defeat to his opponent and said he would call Lasso and offer his congratulations on the electoral victory.
"To all of you who trusted us, I want to thank you with all my heart. We will never forget you. We will be working and defending our citizens," he said.
Hours earlier, Arauz had claimed victory from a stage set up in downtown Quito.
"This victory obviously has to be ratified in the official results, which will be very soon," said Arauz, the protegé of former President Rafael Correa.
In the first-round vote in February, Arauz came in first with 32.7% while Lasso got 19.7%. Yaku Perez of the indigenous Pachakutik party came in third with 19.4%, losing to Lasso by just 32,115 votes out of more than 10 million.
However, recent polls showed Lasso closed that gap with Arauz after most of the candidates who lost in the first round decided to endorse the right-wing candidate.
Leaders around the world have congratulated President-elect Lasso. Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez and Chilean President Sebastian Piñera offered their congratulations, as well as Colombian President Ivan Duque.
Despite a resurgence in coronavirus cases, the government decided not to postpone the vote. The South American country has declared a state of emergency in eight provinces due to COVID-19, which has so far claimed more than 17,000 lives.