Ecuadoreans are voting to choose their next president, weighing pledges to improve the economy and control a spiralling security situation from a businessman who is heir to a banana fortune and a leftist who could be the country’s first woman leader.
Voters’ top concerns largely centre on the economy – which has struggled since the COVID pandemic and motivated many thousands of Ecuadoreans to migrate – and rising crime, including increases in murders, robberies and prison riots.
The violence, which the outgoing government blames on drug gangs, reached a crescendo during the campaign with the murder of anticorruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who was shot dead while leaving a Quito campaign event in August.
Business scion Daniel Noboa, 35, has led recent polling, but at least two surveys placed him and Luisa González, a protege of former President Rafael Correa, within the margin of error.
González, a 45-year-old former lawmaker, won 34 percent of the vote in the first round. She voted early on Sunday in Canuto, surrounded by heavy security.
“We are confident that the Ecuadorean people will vote with memory, heart, for a country with dignity and rights,” González said as she left her polling place.
González has said she would bring back the popular social spending that characterised Correa’s decade in power, pledging free medicine, increased worker protections and direct aid to those in need.
She also promised to use $2.5bn from international reserves to shore up the economy.
“Right now, we don’t have social or economic stability. I worry about the future of my children,” said González voter Erika Granja, 43, in southern Guayaquil.
“I work every day for them and for them, I want a better country,” she said, adding that recent governments have “left the country in pieces”.
Noboa, also an ex-lawmaker who has promised job creation, especially for young people, was a surprise entrant to the run-off, winning 23 percent in the first round.
He is the son of multimillionaire banana magnate Álvaro Noboa, who ran unsuccessfully for president numerous times.
“The people want zero impunity, the people want progress, the people want jobs and young people want hope,” Noboa said after casting his ballot in Santa Elena.
“We need the hope of a prepared candidate and [Noboa] is that,” said Estefano Ruales, 25, a university student in Guayaquil. “We need the hope that he takes the correct path to improve the situation in our Ecuador.”
His taxi driver father was murdered during a robbery seven months ago, Ruales said, and he fears a González victory would worsen insecurity.
The national electoral council said on Friday that some 825 Ecuadoreans in Nicaragua, Russia, Belarus and Israel would not be able to vote either because of a lack of consular presence or war, in a move criticised by Correa on social media.
Noboa’s vice-presidential candidate, Verónica Abad, said she would be at the council monitoring voting reports.
Nearly 45 percent of eligible Ecuadoreans had voted by 1pm local time (18:00 GMT), council president Diana Atamaint told a press conference, adding that authorities would look into a social media video showing a person marking multiple ballots in the province of Sucumbíos.
Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso called the election early to avoid impeachment on charges that he disregarded warnings of embezzlement related to a contract at a state company. He has denied the charges.
The winner will govern only from this December until May 2025, when the victor of regularly scheduled elections will take office.
Many voters were still undecided in the final days of the campaign, according to pollsters.
A Noboa victory could initially be perceived as positive by investors but in the longer-term, the market outlook would depend on who he appoints to top jobs, Zulfi Ali, portfolio manager for PGIM, said.
“The market is going to look very closely at the policies, the initial statements and also the composition of the cabinet, especially in Noboa’s case,” Ali said. “So while the first reaction is positive because he’s a pro-business candidate, pro-business and pro-markets can mean two different things.”
González has said Correa would be her top economic adviser, while both candidates have said they would balance compliance with the terms of Ecuador’s foreign debt and the needs of the population.
On security, González has pledged to build a new prison outside Guayaquil and take back the country from criminals, while Noboa has said the most dangerous convicts should be held on prison boats and that he will use technology to fight crime.
Both have pledged to beef up security at ports and airports, hot spots for drug smuggling.
González enjoys the backing of Correa’s Citizens Revolution party, while Noboa formed his own party – National Democratic Action.
Both candidates have tried to woo young people during the campaign’s final days. About a quarter of the 13 million Ecuadoreans obliged to vote are between the ages of 18 and 29.
Polls opened at 7am local time (12:00 GMT) and will close at 5pm (22:00 GMT). Noboa is expected to await the results in the seaside town of Olon, while González has an event planned in Quito.