Lasso inaugurated as first right-wing Ecuador president in 14 years

Quito (AFP) –


Conservative Guillermo Lasso assumed the presidency of Ecuador on Monday, becoming the country's first right-wing leader in 14 years.

The 65-year-old former banker beat left-wing economist Andres Arauz in a second-round run-off last month and succeeds the hugely unpopular Lenin Moreno.

Dressed in a dark suit with a light blue tie, Lasso was sworn into office by Guadalupe Llori, the president of the National Assembly.

He inherits an oil-producing country battling economic and health crises with the coronavirus pandemic having infected almost 420,000 people and killed more than 20,000, according to an AFP count.

Amongst the foreign dignitaries to attend his inauguration were Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Haiti's Jovenel Moise, and Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, as well as Spain's King Felipe VI.

It was a cherished moment for Lasso, who previously lost election campaigns to socialists Rafael Correa -- Arauz's political mentor -- in 2013 and Moreno four years later.

His first challenge will be to rejuvenate an economy that contracted by 7.8 percent in 2020 and where overall debt stands at 63 percent of GDP.

- Nation suffering political polarization -

Lasso is a believer in the free-market economy and has named Simon Cueva, a former employee of the International Monetary Fund, as his economy and finance minister.

He at least begins with an approval rating of 60 percent, according to pollsters Cedatos, and a lesson from his predecessor whose popularity plummeted from 53 percent to just nine percent during his four-year reign.

His victory by almost five percentage points over Arauz was seen as a rejection of the politics of Correa, who currently lives in Belgium avoiding an eight-year sentence for corruption.

Correa, though, came to power in 2007 after a decade of instability that saw Ecuador swear in seven presidents, three of whom were removed by social protests.

Correa was credited with modernizing Ecuador, thanks in no small part to high oil prices -- something Lasso doesn't currently benefit from.

The socialist leader's legacy, though, was one of falling out with almost everyone due to his authoritarian style.

Traditional political parties, environmentalists, the media, even his former vice-president Moreno became enemies.

Lasso has vowed to govern for all Ecuadorans in a country suffering from political polarization.

He is a practising catholic and member of the conservative Opus Dei faction within the Church.

Following his election victory he pledged to give official papers to the thousands of Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador and hit out at the "totalitarianism" of the Nicolas Maduro regime they had fled.

According to authorities, 350,000 Venezuelans live amongst Ecuador's 18 million population, mostly in the Pichincha province where the capital Quito is found.