Ecuadorans are casting their votes for a new president amidst a surge in drug-related violence and political assassinations. The two remaining candidates, Luisa Gonzalez and Daniel Noboa, campaigned under heightened security measures, including wearing bulletproof vests, due to the prevailing climate of fear in the country. Both candidates have pledged to address the escalating violence, which has become a major concern for Ecuadorans. Recent polls indicate that crime and insecurity are the primary worries for the population, as the murder rate has quadrupled in the past four years.
Ecuador, historically a haven between major cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, has experienced a significant increase in violence as rival gangs with connections to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control. The drug war has resulted in numerous massacres within prisons, with over 460 inmates killed since February 2021. Gangs have also resorted to gruesome displays of violence, such as hanging headless corpses from city bridges and detonating car bombs outside police stations.
The violence has not spared politicians, with nearly a dozen political figures among the 3,600 Ecuadorans murdered this year, according to the Ecuadoran Organized Crime Observatory. In August, anti-graft and anti-cartel journalist and presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated in a hail of submachine gun fire. The incident prompted a state of emergency declaration, and both Gonzalez and Noboa have campaigned with heavy security details, facing death threats along the way.
Whoever wins the election will serve a term of only 16 months, completing the tenure of incumbent Guillermo Lasso, who called for a snap vote to avoid potential impeachment for alleged embezzlement. The winner will be eligible to run for the 2025-29 presidential term and beyond. A victory for either candidate would be historic, with Gonzalez potentially becoming Ecuador’s first woman president, while Noboa would become the country’s youngest leader.
Gonzalez, the chosen candidate of former socialist president Rafael Correa, has focused her campaign on social spending, particularly in education and healthcare. Noboa, the son of one of Ecuador’s wealthiest individuals, has emphasized progress for all. However, with neither candidate expected to secure an absolute majority in parliament, implementing reforms during their short term in office will be challenging.
Voting is compulsory for the 13.4 million eligible voters in Ecuador, and polling stations will be open for 10 hours on election day.