Correa ally leads Ecuador election polls, but second round likely

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador’s ruling leftist party candidate leads voting intentions in the small Andean country ahead of presidential elections next month, but does not have enough support to win in the first round, two recent polls showed.

Ecuadorian politician Lenin Voltaire Moreno addresses students after he was awarded the "Doctor Honoris Causa" degree from The National University of El Salvador in San Salvador, El Salvador, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

After recent major losses for Latin America’s leftist bloc, Ecuador’s election is being scrutinized for a potential further setback as the end of a regional commodities boom and corruption scandals fuel voters’ desire for change.

Lenin Moreno, 63, a disabled career politician who uses a wheelchair, has garnered support with vows to continue popular president Rafael Correa’s social programs, but the ballot seems increasingly likely to spill over to a second round in April.

Some 34.3 percent of voters plan to vote for Moreno, a former vice president and United Nations special envoy on disability, pollster Cedatos said on Monday night.

Around 22.9 percent support Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker and former economy minister, while 11.4 percent back Cynthia Viteri, a center-right lawyer and lawmaker, the poll showed.

To win in the first round on Feb. 19, a candidate needs to secure a majority of all valid votes or win over 40 percent of them and pocket a 10 point difference with the closest rival.

Worryingly for the ruling Country Alliance party, voting intentions for Moreno have slid from 37 percent in October while support for his rivals has grown, Cedatos said.

“The probability of a second round is stronger by the day,” Cedatos head Polibio Cordova told local TV station Ecuavisa.

The Cedatos poll, of 2,120 people between Jan. 16-23, did not survey voting intentions for a potential second round on April 2.

Separately, pollster Market on Sunday also placed Moreno ahead of the pack with 28.17 percent of voting intentions, according to a survey of 9,120 people conducted between Jan. 18-20. Viteri and Lasso were close at 17.98 percent and 16.57 percent respectively.

As a corruption scandal involving Ecuador’s national oil company and Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht grows, analysts see a significant chance of Moreno losing down the line.

“While a Lasso second-round victory remains our base case, Viteri would also likely beat Moreno in a run-off, as the opposition will mostly rally around a single candidate and voter discontent will remain high,” Eurasia consultancy said in a report last week.

Some 12.8 million Ecuadoreans will vote to elect a president and 137 lawmakers for a four-year period.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay