Ecuadorean elec­tion points to em­bassy stay for As­sange

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY FREDERIC PUGLIE

BUENOS AIRES | Vot­ers in far­away Ecuador on Sun­day ap­peared to have cho­sen Rafael Cor­rea’s hand-picked suc­ces­sor as their next pres­i­dent, thereby ex­tend­ing Ju­lian As­sange’s lease on his le­gal sanctuary in the coun­try’s Lon­don em­bassy.

Lenin Moreno, a for­mer vice pres­i­dent and the can­di­date of Mr. Cor­rea’s left­ist PAIS bloc, was de­clared the nar­row win­ner over cen­ter-right can­di­date Guillermo Lasso in Sun­day’s pres­i­den­tial runoff, ac­cord­ing to re­sults from Ecuador’s Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil.

With some 94 per­cent of votes counted, Mr. Moreno scored 51 per­cent to Mr. Lasso’s 49 per­cent.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Juan Pablo Pozo de­clared Mr. Moreno the win­ner and pub­licly called on the two men to ac­cept that re­sult.

“Ecuador de­serves the eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity from its po­lit­i­cal ac­tors to rec­og­nize the demo­cratic de­ci­sion made by the peo­ple at the bal­lot box,” Mr. Pozo said.

How­ever, Mr. Lasso’s CREO al­liance re­fused to con­cede de­feat late Sun­day night as bloc leader Cesar Monge al­leged at a

late-night news con­fer­ence that vote counts for the can­di­dates had been de­lib­er­ately switched in at least one precinct.

“What we will do in the com­ing hours is get to the bot­tom of this,” Mr. Monge said, “so as to know what hap­pened with this elec­tion.”

Should that re­sult stand, though, it would mean that Mr. As­sange will not be “cor­dially asked” to leave the diplo­matic mis­sion that the Wik­iLeaks founder has called home since 2012 — as Mr. Lasso had promised.

Should he be ex­pelled from the Ecuadorean Em­bassy, Mr. As­sange would face im­mi­nent ar­rest and ex­tra­di­tion to Swe­den, where pros­e­cu­tors for years have wanted to ques­tion him over sex­ual assault ac­cu­sa­tions.

Mr. Moreno, who won the Feb. 19 mul­ti­can­di­date first round with 39 per­cent of the vote but fell short of the ma­jor­ity needed to avoid Sun­day’s match-up with Mr. Lasso, has fre­quently re­it­er­ated his prom­ise of con­tin­ued pro­tec­tion but at a re­cent cam­paign stop also cau­tioned the Wik­iLeaks founder to be a more po­lite house­guest.

“Mr. As­sange [can] stay at our em­bassy as long as he is not given safe pas­sage to move to our coun­try or a coun­try of his choos­ing,” Mr. Moreno told lo­cal re­porters while cam­paign­ing in the western prov­ince of Man­abi on Wed­nes­day. “But we will al­ways ask Mr. As­sange to be re­spect­ful in his state­ments to­ward our al­lies [and] our friends.”

But his in­tended suc­ces­sor has taken a softer ap­proach, go­ing so far as to pre­dict a “good and re­fresh­ing re­la­tions” with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Let’s not for­get that the United States is our prin­ci­pal trad­ing part­ner,” Mr. Moreno said.

The 64-year-old for­mer U.N. dis­abil­ity spe­cial en­voy, who only re­cently re­turned from his post in Geneva, pulled ahead after a chaotic elec­tion night. Two early exit polls in the pres­i­den­tial runoff showed con­tra­dic­tory re­sults, with one as­sur­ing a 4-point vic­tory for Mr. Moreno and the other giv­ing a 6-point ad­van­tage to Mr. Lasso. In the end, though, Mr. Cor­rea’s can­di­date man­aged to eke out a tri­umph.

Re­gard­less of the Moreno win, the vote likely ended the lo­cal ver­sion of “21st-cen­tury so­cial­ism” of the late Venezue­lan leader Hugo Chavez — long propped up by Mr. Cor­rea’s charisma and the oil-driven eco­nomic boom dur­ing much of his 10-year pres­i­dency, said Si­mon Pachano, a colum­nist for El Universo daily.

“No mat­ter who wins, the so­called cit­i­zens’ rev­o­lu­tion is over,” Mr. Pachano told The Washington Times be­fore the re­sult was de­clared.

First elected in late 2006, the youth­ful Mr. Cor­rea had quickly moved to push through a new con­sti­tu­tion — the 20th in the coun­try’s 180-year his­tory. Adopt­ing a for­eign pol­icy at times openly hos­tile to the U.S., he closely aligned Ecuador with Venezuela and Mr. Chavez’s Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance for the Peoples of Our Amer­ica, or ALBA.

Iron­i­cally, those ties may have made Mr. Lasso a vi­able can­di­date as vot­ers kept a close eye on the sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela, whose eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal melt­down was on dis­play last week when the coun­try’s Supreme Court briefly tried to wield power from the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly.

“Not just what hap­pened in the past few days, but the gen­eral sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela has had an im­pact” on Ecuadore­ans, who view de­vel­op­ments there as “some­thing not de­sir­able” for their coun­try, Mr. Pachano said.

It’s a fear Mr. Lasso ham­mered in once more as he cast his vote early Sun­day in Guayaquil, his home­town and Ecuador’s largest city.

“This is a cru­cial day for the coun­try; it’s not just any elec­tion,” he said. There is “the road of Venezuela or the road of democ­racy and free­dom.”

Mr. Cor­rea, though, did not shy from putting the elec­tion in a Latin Amer­i­can con­text and, as he voted in the early morn­ing hours in Quito, lamented re­cent cen­ter-right vic­to­ries across the con­ti­nent.

“We have had a con­ser­va­tive back­lash in re­cent years,” he said with a nod to the ouster of pop­ulist gov­ern­ments in Ar­gentina, Brazil and Peru. “The Ecuadorean elec­tions are very im­por­tant to see if this ten­dency con­tin­ues.”

In Mr. As­sange’s case, how­ever, the im­pli­ca­tions of the fi­nal tally will be much more im­me­di­ate. As of Sun­day night, just a hand­ful of votes kept him away from find­ing him­self in a Swedish court­room, where a judge would likely de­ter­mine an “ob­vi­ous risk of flight,” lo­cal crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer Daniel Roos said.

Worse yet, pros­e­cu­tors might push for the Wik­iLeaks founder to be not only jailed un­til trial, but also for him to be held in iso­la­tion — a mea­sure courts may grant to pre­vent wit­ness- and ev­i­denc­etam­per­ing, Mr. Roos said.

In that case, “he would have ac­cess to his de­fense lawyer and no one else,” the lawyer noted.

What­ever the course of his lo­cal le­gal trou­bles, Mr. As­sange’s trans­fer to Swe­den would ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine whether his claims that the U.S. is per­se­cut­ing him might be jus­ti­fied. If a U.S. in­dict­ment sur­faces, Stockholm in prin­ci­ple would be bound by a bi­lat­eral and a Euro­pean Union ex­tra­di­tion treaty with Washington, Mr. Roos said.

But “ex­tra­di­tion can be re­fused if the al­leged crimes are deemed to be po­lit­i­cal,” he said. “The most com­mon grounds for re­fusal is that the crimes are po­lit­i­cal.”

Still, judges in the fa­mously lib­eral coun­try do not typ­i­cally shy away from un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions and would de­ter­mine ex­tra­di­tion on the mer­its, Mr. Roos said.

“I doubt that pub­lic pres­sure would in­flu­ence the out­come of [that] rul­ing,” he added.

If Mr. Moreno’s vic­tory is con­firmed and he is sworn in as Ecuador’s next pres­i­dent on May 24, though, the left­ist can­di­date’s vic­tory will now give Mr. As­sange some clar­ity about his im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

The same can’t be said for the Ecuadorean peo­ple, Mr. Pachano warned, as Mr. Moreno largely re­mains an enigma — even to his sup­port­ers.

“We don’t know who Lenin Moreno is,” Mr. Pachano said. “He speaks in gen­er­al­i­ties. But he has no fun­da­men­tal ap­proach.”


CHO­SEN: Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Lenin Moreno flashed a vic­tory sign late Sun­day. Rafael Cor­rea’s hand-picked suc­ces­sor was de­clared the win­ner.

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