Ecuador exit polls project different winners in presidential vote

By Alexandra Ulmer and Alexandra Valencia
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Ecuadorean presidential candidate Lenin Moreno gives a thumb up while waiting for the results of the national election in a hotel, in Quito

Ecuadorean presidential candidate Lenin Moreno gives a thumb up while waiting for the results of the national election in a hotel, in Quito, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

By Alexandra Ulmer and Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) - Two exit polls projected different winners in a tight presidential election in Ecuador on Sunday evening, sparking celebrations in the rival camps of a leftist government-backed candidate and a former banker.

Final results could take days, 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.

Conservative challenger Guillermo Lasso had 53.02 percent of votes versus 46.98 percent 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.

A Lasso win also has international repercussions, with the businessman vowing to remove WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Ecuador's London embassy if he wins on Sunday.

A separate exit poll by Perfiles de Opinion showed Moreno with 52.2 percent of the vote versus 47.8 percent for Lasso.

Moreno was more measured, telling supporters in Quito: "We have a very trustworthy lead."

He urged Ecuadoreans to await final results.

South American is watching closely to see if Ecuador will follow Argentina, Brazil and Peru in shifting to the right as a commodities boom ends.

TWO VISIONS

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."

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.

Indeed, 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.

(Additional reporting by Yury Garcia in Guayaquil and Jose Llangari in Quito; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Girish Gupta and Mary Milliken)

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