On his bamboo bike, Yaku Perez took the lead of the natives marching towards Quito to demand a new count of his votes in the first round of the elections, convinced that he will open the doors of the presidency to him.
“We will not allow electoral fraud!” The battle cry of his supporters breathes energy into the environmental lawyer in a red poncho, the first Native American to reach this far in a presidential poll in Ecuador.
The natives left six days ago from the south of the country to denounce the fact that their historic passage to the second round was confiscated from them. Their candidate joined them the next day and they were nearly 500 Monday, some in vehicles, others on foot.
This “march for peace in democracy” passed through Salcedo, one of its last stages before arriving in Quito on Tuesday, where those who consider themselves “undefeated” hope to be legion in order to demonstrate their acquired strength at the polls , after decades of street protests.
Yaku Perez, 51, was declared third with 19.39% of the vote in the first round on February 7. Although at one point ahead of Guillermo Lasso, 65, in the partial counts, the ex-right-wing banker finally passed him with 19.74% of the vote.
This difference of barely 32,600 votes will allow the conservative to contest the second round against the socialist Andrés Arauz, 36, foal of ex-president Rafael Correa, who came in first with 32.72%.
– Hope and dream stolen –
Candidate of the Pachakutik party, political arm of the indigenous movement, Yaku Perez does not admit defeat. Perched on his bicycle, worn out throughout the electoral campaign, he pauses to thank his supporters who chant “The people’s vote must be respected!”
“We will not surrender,” warns Luz Namicela, a Kichwa native of Saraguro, a village near Loja, on the border with Peru and the starting point of this 600 km walk to Quito.
In a festive atmosphere, the marchers support Yaku Perez’s demand for a new vote count in 17 of the 24 provinces of this country, where Amerindians represent 7% of the 17.4 million inhabitants.
The possibility of appeal was opened by the National Electoral Council (CNE) after it proclaimed on the night of Saturday to Sunday the final results excluding it from the second round, scheduled for April 11.
“It’s not just a theft targeting Yaku Perez. It’s a flight of hope, of a whole dream not only of the indigenous movement, but also of environmentalists, workers, popular sectors who have hope radical change, “he told AFP.
Coming from the thousand-year-old Kañari people, who live in the southern Andean region of the country, this conservationist claims that “more than half a million votes” were stolen from him during the count.
“Fraud takes place in two ways: during the counting and alteration of ballots, and within the electoral computer system (…) which can be manipulated to migrate the votes from one candidate to another”, assures- he.
The public control entity as well as the public prosecutor’s office requested a review of the CNE’s computer system.
– “Indomitable people” –
“With fraud, we have (nearly) 20%. Without fraud, we would have exceeded 25% and the triumph was almost acquired in the second round”, adds Yaku Perez, ex-prefect (governor) of the province of Azuay ( South).
In view of April 11, he promised a great alliance in order to prevent the current of ex-president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) from recovering power via his dolphin.
Yaku Perez attracts his followers like a magnet. They crowd around his car, before he gets out to get on his bike.
“Fraud no, transparency yes!” The slogan makes him smile. And if because of the covid-19 pandemic, he doesn’t take off his mask and punch their fists with his rather than shake hands, he doesn’t mind hugging.
“We are indestructible, we are an indomitable people,” he says.
In October 2019, the natives started a popular uprising, which resulted in 11 dead and more than 1,300 injured. They were also involved in the revolts that overthrew three presidents between 1997 and 2005.
“The movement had in history 10 deputies, today it has 27” out of 137, welcomes Yaku Perez in any case, claiming the peaceful nature of the current mobilization.
“These votes were not easy to obtain, but must not be easy to steal,” says the candidate of Pachakutik, who could constitute one of the first political forces in a fragmented unicameral parliament.
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