QUITO, Ecuador – Whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can stay at the Ecuadorean embassy in London could depend on the winner of Sunday’s presidential election in the South American country.
Ruling party candidate Lenin Moreno, who is the hand-picked successor of outgoing President Rafael Correa, has indicated he would back Assange’s continued stay. But his main challenger, former banker Guillermo Lasso, has indicated in interviews that he would evict the Australian activist within 30 days of taking office.
Other conservative candidates are even more outspoken.
“The money we’re using to maintain him in the embassy we could be using to provide meals in schools,” said former congresswoman Cynthia Viteri.
Polls indicate that none of the eight people running is likely to get enough votes to win the first round.
Moreno has from 28 per cent to 32 per cent support, but likely lacks a big enough edge to avoid a runoff election against Lasso. To avoid a runoff a candidate needs to win more than half of the votes or 40 per cent with a 10-point lead over his closest rival.
Correa, an outspoken critic of the U.S., decided in 2012 to grant asylum to Assange based on concerns he could face political persecution for documents published by Wikileaks. Assange fled to the embassy after an unsuccessful legal battle to prevent being sent to Sweden, where he is wanted on a rape allegation.
In advance of the election, supporters of Assange have been warning that his days at the embassy could be numbered. Earlier this week, a protest was staged on social media to draw attention to his plight.
For most Ecuadoreans, Assange’s case seems like a Hollywood spy movie with little bearing on their lives. Except in interviews with foreign journalists, his asylum has barely been mentioned during the campaign.
But even Correa’s government has expressed some misgivings about Assange’s activism. Moreno has said that if he wins he’d ask Assange to be more careful to prevent complicating Ecuador’s relations with other countries.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Assange’s access to the internet was briefly cut in retaliation for his decision to dump a trove of damaging emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that affected the race and which Ecuador said violated the country’s tradition of respect for other nations’ sovereignty.