Ecuador election could end a decade of left wing rule

With more than 24 percent of polling stations reporting, ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno had almost 38 percent of the votes, compared to 31 percent for former banker Guillermo Lasso, the closest contender among seven opposition candidates.

The move has also shielded him from arrest over possible extradition to the United States for leaking diplomatic cables.

Moreno, 63, had between 36 and 43 percent of the vote, according to the polls.

Over his decade in power, leftist economist Correa, 53, oversaw an economic boom in the country of 16 million. The International Monetary Fund expects Ecuador's economy to shrink 2.7 percent this year, and analysts predict the new president will have to seek a bailout from the Washington-based IMF to address financial problems made worse by last year's 7.8 magnitude quake.

Correa is accused of failing to save any petrodollars for a rainy day, and of hampering businesses with high taxes and duties. Lenin Moreno, who is a former vice president, needs to get past 40 percent and gain a 10 percentage point lead over his nearest rival to avoid a second round.

"But he is leaving behind a country in which it is very hard to produce things".

He has slammed Correa's allies over alleged links to a corruption scandal.

"We are going to vote for real change that means we take the best and we make it even better", Moreno said in a statement ahead of the vote. Also seeking the presidency is Cynthia Viteri, a conservative ex-congresswoman, and Paco Moncayo, the former mayor of the capital Quito.

The frontrunner is Lenin Moreno, former vice-president and member of Correa's center-left PAIS Alliance party.

But Lasso has shown more willingness to work with Washington since Trump's election victory in November. Ecuadorians were also voting to renew the Parliament and elect four deputies for the Andean Parliament. But two exit polls cited by TVC television cast doubt on whether there will be an April 2 runoff. Expected to decide the race were a third of voters who until recently declared themselves undecided amid low-energy campaigning as the charismatic Correa prepares to retire from politics.

"Any party could beat the governing one in the second round, because there is major resistance to and rejection of the government", said political scientist Paolo Moncagatta of Quito's San Francisco University.

The polling stations across Ecuador opened on Sunday at 07:00 a.m. local time (3:00 p.m. Moscow Time) and closed at 5:00 p.m. local time (01:00 Monday, Moscow Time).

  • Leroy Wright