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Ecuador Mayor Leads Vote

July 15, 1998

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Quito’s mayor captured the majority of provinces in Ecuador’s presidential election, though his populist rival refused to concede until votes were counted in the country’s most populous region.

Jamil Mahuad held a preliminary 7.6 percentage point lead in Sunday’s vote over banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, election officials said.

That margin was expected to shrink, however, since results were still not in from Noboa’s coastal stronghold of Guayas.

The final result, which had been expected Wednesday, will likely be delayed until Thursday, election tribunal Vice President Eduardo Villaquiran said.

``We still do not have all the votes from Guayas,″ he said.

Mahuad, who has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, has already claimed victory and met with officials to discuss a Cabinet. But Noboa has refused to concede, saying his private exit poll showed him taking a narrow victory.

He charged the Mahuad camp with election fraud, a claim foreign election observers rejected.

About 100 Noboa supporters surrounded the elections office in the port city of Guayaquil, Noboa’s hometown, after he told them to go there to protect his votes.

``They have forced us to militarize vote-counting centers to protect the people working there,″ said Patricio Vivanco, president of the electoral tribunal.

Mahuad, 48, and Noboa, 47, were the top vote-getters in the first round of voting on May 31. Neither won an outright majority, necessitating a runoff.

The winner will take over the Andean nation of 12 million people with its democracy and economy in tatters. The economy is expected to grow by no more than 1 percent in 1998, battered by El Nino-driven floods and mudslides and falling prices for its main export, oil.

Ecuador’s 19-year-old democracy almost collapsed in February 1997, when Congress removed eccentric President Abdala Bucaram from power for ``mental incapacity.″

Congress named Fabian Alarcon as interim president, but for 48 chaotic hours following Bucaram’s ouster, three people all claimed to be president.

During his six years as Quito’s mayor, Mahuad earned a reputation as a clean, effective politician. He had the support of Ecuador’s political elite and business community.

Noboa, Ecuador’s richest man, campaigned as the candidate of the poor and had the support of Bucaram’s Roldosista party.

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