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Ecuador, Peru Head to Polls            04/11 09:07


   LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Ecuador and Peru choose new presidents Sunday under 
strict public health measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has 
recently strengthened in the neighboring South American nations.

   Ecuadoreans face a runoff between a conservative businessman and a protg 
of former leftist President Rafael Correa, while Peruvians have 18 options to 
pick from in the first round. All seats in Peru's congress, too, are being 

   The elections come amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in both countries and 
meager progress in their vaccination programs. Lockdowns have returned, 
threating further damage to the nations' already battered economies.

   In Ecuador, voters have been ordered to wear a mask, bring their own hand 
sanitizer and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid 
all personal contact in the polling place. The only time voters will be allowed 
to lower their mask will be during the identification process.

   Election officials in Peru have scheduled specific times for people to vote 
to avoid overcrowding at the polls. People will have to wipe their shoes on 
sanitizing mats, wear masks, undergo a temperature check and carry their own 
blue-ink pen. Poll workers will be paid for the first time.

   Ecuador's runoff features leftist candidate Andres Arauz, who led the first 
round of voting with more than 30% on Feb. 7, and former banker Guillermo 
Lasso, who edged into the final by finishing about half of a percentage point 
above environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku Prez.

   Arauz is backed by Correa, a major force in the troubled Andean nation 
despite a corruption conviction. He has proposed making the wealthy pay more 
taxes, backing away from agreements with the International Monetary Fund, and 
finding legal mechanisms to force the repatriation of deposits that Ecuadorians 
have abroad.

   Lasso finished second in the last two presidential contests. He favors 
free-market policies and Ecuador's rapprochement with international 
organizations. He has proposed raising the minimum wage to $500, finding ways 
to include more youth and women in the labor market and eliminating tariffs for 
agricultural equipment.

   The country is deep in a recession that many fear will worsen as lockdowns 
return because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. Ecuador has tallied more than 
341,000 cases and over 17,000 deaths as of Friday.

   Meanwhile, Peru's election has turned into a popularity contest in which a 
candidate has even addressed how he suppresses his sexual desires. The crowded 
field of presidential hopefuls comes months after the country's political chaos 
reached a new level in November, when three men were named presidents in a week 
after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests 
forced his successor to resign.

   All former Peruvian presidents who ruled since 1985 have been ensnared in 
corruption allegation, some imprisoned or arrested in their mansions. One died 
by suicide before police could arrest him.

   To avoid a June runoff, a candidate needs more than 50% of votes, and recent 
polls show the leading candidate garnering only about 15% support.

   In polls, centrist Yonhy Lescano has been followed by center-right George 
Forsyth, conservative Rafael Lpez Aliaga and Keiko Fujimori, the opposition 
leader and daughter of the polarizing former President Alberto Fujimori.

   The country is among those hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 1.5 
million cases and over 53,400 deaths as of Friday.

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