Ecuadoreans will choose their next president on Sunday, weighing pledges to improve the economy and control a spiraling security situation from a businessman who is heir to a banana fortune and a leftist who would be the country’s first woman leader.
Voters’ top concerns largely center on the economy – which has struggled since the coronavirus 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 anti-corruption 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 put voting intention for him and Luisa Gonzalez, a protégé of former President Rafael Correa, within the margin of error.
Gonzalez, 45 and a former lawmaker, won 34% of the vote in a first round.
She has said she would bring back the popular social spending which characterized Correa’s decade in power, pledging free medicine, increased worker protections and direct aid to those in need.
She also has promised to use $2.5 billion from international reserves to shore up the economy.
Noboa, also an ex-lawmaker and who has promised job creation – especially for young people – was a surprise entrance to the run-off, winning 23% in the first round.
He is the son of multimillionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, who himself ran unsuccessfully for president numerous times.
Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso called the election early to avoid impeachment on charges he disregarded warnings of embezzlement related to a contract at a state company. He has denied the charges.
The winner will govern only between this December and 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 initially could be perceived as positive by investors, but longer-term market outlook would depend on who he appoints to top jobs, said Zulfi Ali, portfolio manager for PGIM.
“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.”
Gonzalez has said Correa would be her top economic advisor, while both candidates have said they would balance compliance with the terms of Ecuador’s foreign debt with the needs of the population.
On security, Gonzalez 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.
Gonzalez enjoys the robust 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.