WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will likely be able to remain at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London after voters in Ecuador on Sunday [2 April] narrowly elected ruling party candidate Lenín Moreno over conservative Guillermo Lasso.
Moreno, the political successor to President Rafael Correa, had said he would allow Assange to stay. Correa in 2012 granted asylum to Assange, who hasn’t left the embassy since.
Moreno won the presidential runoff with 51% of the vote, according to an official quick count by by the National Electoral Council, although Lasso was seeking a recount after three exit polls showed him winning by a comfortable margin. Minutes earlier a separate quick count by a respected local group said the race was a technical tie with a difference of less than 0.6 percentage points separating the two candidates. The group refrained from saying which candidate was leading until the electoral authorities made their pronouncement.
Official results still being counted showed Moreno ahead by two points with 94% of voting acts counted.
A Moreno win likely ensures that Assange will be able to continue the unusual arrangement at the cramped London embassy. Lasso, a former banker, had said that within 30 days of taking office he would evict Assange, but would seek to find him asylum elsewhere.
In a recent interview, Lasso told the Miami Herald that he would work with other governments to house Assange at another embassy. “We will ask Mr. Assange, very politely, to leave our embassy, in absolute compliance with international conventions and protocols,” Lasso said in an email, adding: “we vow to take all the steps necessary so that another embassy will take him in and protect his rights.”
In the five years Assange has been in the embassy, Correa’s administration hasn’t been able to figure out how to move him to Ecuador amid heavy police scrutiny in London. Assange took refuge there while fighting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual misconduct allegations. Assange and his legal team fear that the Swedish charges are a ploy to have him extradited to the United States, The Herald reported.
For all of its intrigue, the issue is not a major concern to average Ecuadoran voters, The Washington Post reported. Correa granted asylum to Assange in 2012, viewing him as a fellow “anti-imperialist” who could bolster his efforts to garner leftist support elsewhere in the world.
The arrangement became strained last year when WikiLeaks published hacked Democratic Party emails during the U.S. presidential campaign — Correa temporarily cut off Assange’s Internet access.
Beyond deciding the fate of Assange, the race was seen as one that could further tilt Latin America toward the right.
Heading into Sunday’s election, Moreno, 64, and Lasso, 61, were virtually tied in the polls.
A March 21 poll by firm Cedatos, which accurately predicted the first-round result, put Moreno ahead with 52% for the first time since its runoff surveys began, The Associated Press reported. Yet as many as 16% of voters said they were still undecided. Moreno’s lead was within the poll’s margin of error.
Correa urged voters to support his “Citizens’ Revolution” by electing Moreno, who he said will continue policies to support the poor. But a majority of Ecuadorans said they were eager for change after 10 years of Correa’s iron-fisted rule. Ecuador’s economy is slated to shrink by 2.7% this year as oil prices remain low, and Lasso promised to deliver a well-needed jolt to the nation’s beleaguered economy.
But in the race’s final weeks, Moreno rose in polls as he and Correa cast Lasso as a wealthy, out-of-touch politician who profited from the country’s 1999 banking crisis.
Source: USA Today
By: Greg Toppo
2 April 2017