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Presidential campaign enters home stretch with rallies, fist fights and corruption charges

Big rallies, new corruption charges and counter-charges, defenses of family honor, and inconclusive political polls mark the final days of Ecuador’s presidential campaign.

Guillermo Lasso in Cuenca Monday.

In Cuenca on Monday, caravans supporting CREO candidate Guillermo Lasso and Democractic Left candidate Paco Moncayo wound their way through city streets to rallies at Parque de la Madre and Otorongo Plaza. The campaigns for candidate Lenin Moreno (Alianza Pais) and Cynthia Viteri staged similar events last week in Cuenca and Moreno returns for another rally today.

The campaign begins a “quiet period” on Friday, after which all campaigning is suspended until the election.

The final political polls released before the Feb. 19 election show that Moreno continues to maintain a lead in the race, with conservatives Lasso and Viteri vying for second and a possible run-off spot against Moreno. Poll averages show Moreno with 33% of voter support, Lasso at 18% and Vitera at 14%. Support for the other five candidates is in the single digits.  To avoid a run-off, Moreno must receive 40% of the vote with a 10% lead over the second-place candidate.

National police say that the number of fights between supporters of various candidates has increased dramatically in the last week, with several arrests in Quito on Monday.

The fight receiving the most attention, however, was a one-sided affair Sunday in a Guayaquil restaurant in which the brother of presidential candidate Abdalá Bucaram sucker-punched the uncle of Alianza País vice presidential candidate Jorge Glas. Bucaram’s brother, who later apologized for the incident, claimed he was defending his family honor. Glas’ uncle, Ricardo Rivera, says he will press charges against Jacobo Bucaram.

The fight stems from recent charges and counter-charges that Glas was involved in a bribery scandal at Petroecuador. Bucaram has claimed that Glas’ family members received money in the scandal and then complained about a government smear campaign against his own family. Glas also went on the offensive to defend the family name.

A Quito history professor calls the late campaign drama “par for the course” in Ecuadorian politics. “This is nothing new,” says Fernando Ruiz, an official in two presidential administrations. “It’s happened for generations and is part of the Latino culture of family honor. It gets silly sometimes.”

Ruiz is predicting the election will go to a second round between Moreno and Lasso although he doesn’t rule out an outright victory for Moreno. “Even though the scandal charges against Glas have hurt the ticket to some extent, no one has suggested Lenin is involved in corruption. People who don’t like Glas and Correa, like Lenin, and because 15% to 20% of the voters are undecided, it’s possible he could reach 40%.”