Ecuador's Lasso advances to presidential runoff; Perez disputes results

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QUITO (Reuters) - Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso will advance to the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election after coming in second place in a Feb. 7 vote, the country’s electoral authority said on Sunday, while the third-place finisher alleged fraud.

The national electoral council (CNE) said Lasso, a proponent of pro-market economic policies, obtained 19.74% of the vote and will advance to a runoff against leftist economist Andres Arauz on April 11. Arauz, an ally of former President Rafael Correa, won the most votes in the first round with 32.72%, shy of the margin required to win outright.

Indigenous environmentalist candidate Yaku Perez came in third with 19.39% of the vote, 32,600 votes fewer than Lasso, the CNE said. Perez had requested a recount in 17 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces on grounds of alleged fraud and manipulation of vote count data.

The CNE denied the request before the results were declared, arguing he had not presented enough proof, but Perez was defiant.

“We will continue taking action because an electoral fraud cannot go unpunished,” he said in the Andean city of Riobamba.

Perez has since last week been marching with hundreds of indigenous Ecuadoreans through the country’s central highlands toward the capital Quito to demand a recount. Other civil society groups have announced plans to demonstrate in favor of Perez next week.

The chief prosecutor’s and comptroller’s offices both called on the CNE to review their computer systems before the second round in response to Perez’s allegations. Both Lasso and Arauz said they would be opposed to the intervention of other entities in the electoral process, warning against any vote delay.

“It is time to defend and strengthen democracy,” Lasso said on Twitter.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Lisa Shumaker