Rodrigo Borja, a center-left lawyer who promised to distance his administration from the current government's pro-U.S. foreign policy, was elected president of Ecuador.
Borja, 52, leader of the Democratic Left Party, defeated populist Abdala Bucaram, 36, in a runoff on Sunday to select a successor to conservative Leon Febres Cordero, Washington's closest ally in South America.With the vote count virtually complete, Borja had 1,631,747 votes to Bucaram's 1,401,153 votes. Nearly 450,000 votes were blank or nullified. More than 4.6 million Ecuadoreans were registered to vote.
Bucaram, speaking on national television from his power base in Guayaquil, the country's largest city and its major port, conceded defeat Sunday night and congratulated Borja.
It was Borja's third bid for the presidency. He was narrowly defeated by Febres Cordero in a bitterly fought runoff in 1984 and has pledged to reverse his foe's free-market economic policies.
But he also told Ecuador's business community not to be frightened by his election. "Our victory should not make anyone nervous. No one should set off a financial panic," Borja said Sunday night. "We intend to respect private enterprise."
Borja has promised to back a moratorium on payment of Ecuador's $9.2 billion foreign debt if creditors don't agree to negotiate easier terms. "I do not believe it is possible to pay the foreign debt under the conditions they want to collect," he said in a recent meeting with foreign correspondents. "Either we pay the debt or we develop the country. We can't do both things at the same time."
The Febres Cordero government suspended payment on the debt last year after severe economic damage from devastating earthquakes.
The victory by the left-leaning Borja and Bucaram sent tremors through Ecuador's financial circles. The Ecuadorean currency plunged in value from 275 sucres to the dollar to nearly 500 sucres since the first round of voting.
Borja has said he plans to establish exchange controls and restrict imports to protect Ecuador's dangerously low dollar reserves. He also plans price controls on basic consumer goods.
He says he will seek close ties to the non-aligned movement and re-establish diplomatic relations with leftist-led Nicaragua. Febres Cordero severed relations in 1985 after an argument with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Borja will be sworn in Aug. 10 for a four-year term.