Lenin Moreno (C), presidential candidate of the ruling PAIS Alliance Party, gives a news conference accompanied by candidates for Ecuador's Assembly in Quito, Ecuador, February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo(reuters_tickers)
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador looked set for an April runoff between leftist ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno and former banker Guillermo Lasso in its presidential election, with 94 percent of votes from the weekend's first round of voting counted on Tuesday morning.
Moreno was so far less than one percentage point short of the threshold needed to avoid a second round on April 2 and continue a decade-long period of leftist rule, just as South America is broadly moving to the right.
While Ecuadoreans are angry over an economic downturn and corruption scandals, the opposition split its votes among seven candidates and the ruling Country Alliance remains popular with many poor voters thanks to social welfare programs.
If a runoff goes ahead, the opposition is expected to close ranks around Lasso, who has promised to create jobs and investigate corruption scandals.
As results trickled in, Moreno, a disabled former vice president, was just short of the 40 percent of votes and a 10 percentage-point difference over his nearest rival needed to win outright.
He had 39.18 percent of valid votes versus 28.38 percent for Lasso, with 93.8 percent of votes counted, the official preliminary election count showed on Tuesday morning.
The electoral council has said full clarity would not arrive until around Thursday due to votes coming in slowly from isolated areas and Ecuadoreans abroad, bureaucratic delays and "inconsistencies" in some ballots.
The opposition has said it is worried about fraud and there have been protests by Lasso supporters in front of the electoral council headquarters in the capital, Quito.
Moreno has dismissed the opposition's stance, calling Lasso a "sore loser" and urging Ecuadoreans to wait for the final results.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)