By Nick Miroff
Ecuador will elect a new president April 2, and poll results are not looking good for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
According to a Feb. 23-24 survey of 2,834 Ecuadorans by the Cedatos polling agency, right-wing challenger Guillermo Lasso is leading the ruling party candidate, Lenin Moreno, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.
Lasso has pledged to evict Assange from Ecuador’s embassy in London within 30 days if he is elected.
Even Moreno is giving Assange cause for concern. In an interview last week, Moreno said he is “extremely disturbed” by the Assange’s alleged meddling in foreign elections and might reexamine Ecuador’s relationship with the Wikileaks founder.
Assange has lived at the embassy since 2012 under the protection of Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa, but Correa is ineligible to run for a third term. The WikiLeaks founder has lived in a small converted office at the embassy during that time, and if he is forced to leave, he would be subject to arrest as soon as he steps on the sidewalk.
Assange faces arrest in Sweden, where he’s been accused of sexual assault, but Correa extended diplomatic protection to him on the grounds that he would face “political persecution” if extradited to the United States, as he fears.
Moreno, the candidate of Correa’s Alianza Pais party, won 39 percent of the ballots during the first round of presidential voting Feb. 19, falling just short of the victory margin that would have allowed him to avoid a runoff.
Lasso won 28 percent, but the country’s opposition has unified around his candidacy since then. He has promised to reduce government spending and cut taxes, and many Ecuadorans say they want a change after a decade of Correa’s highly personalized, left-populist brand of rule.
Although Assange’s status doesn’t appear to be of major concern to Ecuador’s voters, Lasso said the country can’t afford to host him at its embassy indefinitely.
“The Ecuadorian people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear,” Lasso told the Guardian during an interview earlier this month in Quito.
“We will cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate,” he said.
Even if Moreno wins, it’s unclear whether Assange will be able to remain a guest at the embassy. His relationship with the staff there has reportedly been strained for years. Tensions boiled over in October when Ecuador’s government temporarily cut off Assange’s Internet access, saying that WikiLeaks was having a “major impact” on the U.S. presidential race.
During the campaign, WikiLeaks published the private emails of the Democratic National Committee and staffers of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and U.S. officials concluded that the communications had been hacked by the Russian government to help Donald Trump win the election.
Assange has not been formally charged with any crimes in the United States. Trump spoke favorably of WikiLeaks during his campaign, but last month the organization criticized the president’s refusal to release his tax records and said it would do so if it obtained them.
Credit: Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com