Ecuador’s leftist candidate Luisa Gonzalez took the lead in the country’s presidential election held yesterday (Aug. 20). Backed by the powerful party of Rafael Correa—the fugitive ex-president who held the apex post between 2007 and 2017—45-year-old lawmaker Gonzalez has harked back to the economic and security situation under the Correa administration, when homicide rates were far from the current record highs and poverty was a diminishing.
But she won’t slide into office without having to put up a fight. Businessman Daniel Noboa, a political outsider, is a surprise contender in second place. The 35-year-old scion of a banana empire, who hails from one of the richest families in Latin America, touts himself as “the employment president.” His proposals, include creating jobs, lowering taxes, and forging more international free trade agreements, are popular among young voters.
With no candidate nabbing a winning majority—defined as 50% of the votes, or at least 40% with a 10-point lead over the closest opponent—Gonzalez and Noboa will compete in a runoff election on Oct. 15.
Guillermo Lasso, a former banker, scored a rare victory for a right-wing politician in South America in 2021, when he became the Ecuador’s first conservative president in the country in 14 years.
In May, Lasso dissolved the legislature and set the course for a snap election after the opposition-led parliament accused him of embezzlement and started impeachment proceedings. He decided against seeking reelection.
The South American country, once known as “an island of peace,” has been ravaged by an ugly turf war between drug traffickers. Soaring cartel violence resulted in beheadings during prison riots, car bombings, young men hanging from bridges, and more.
Security in election season has been a prime worry. In the run up to the election, several political figures were murdered—Omar Menéndez, a leftist mayoral candidate in Puerto López; Augustín Intriago, mayor of the coastal city of Manta; presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio; and Pedro Briones, left-wing local party official. Most of the hits likely came from cartels.
The first round of elections went off without a hitch. The country’s top electoral authority, Diana Atamaint, the country’s top electoral authority, reported no instances of violence at voting centers and characterized the election as “peaceful and safe.”
33%: Votes Gonzalez had after 80% of the votes were counted, AP reported citing election officers
24%: Votes Gonzalez’s closest rival Daniel Noboa clocked, marking a surprise uptick from polling in the single-digits until a few weeks ago
6: The number of times Noboa’s father Alvaro ran for president, even making the runoff three times. But he never won
16%: Votes for murdered candidate Villavicencio, who bagged third place. Villavicencio was polling fifth among eight candidates at the time of his killing, 10 days before the elections. Technically, these votes were for Villavicencio’s replacement Christian Zurita, but the ballots had already been printed by the time the murder happened. Zurita and several other candidates conceded as the results became clear
100,000: Police and soldiers deployed on Aug. 20, to oversee that the first round of voting is completed without violence
18 months: Term duration for the new president, who will take office on Oct. 26—just until the end of Lasso’s original term
20: People arrested for unlawfully carrying guns to the polls, according to Fausto Salinas, commander general of the National Police. One person was arrested for false voting, and two for harassment and resisting arrest
“Noboa grew due to two factors: the first was Villavicencio’s death, which changed everything, and the debate, where Noboa was the winner.”
—Francis Romero, president of pollster Click Research, in a statement to Bloomberg after the Aug. 20 vote
Alongside the presidential elections, Ecuadorians also voted on a binding referendum on whether they want oil drilling to continue beneath an Amazon biodiversity hotspot in Yasuní National Park. The results are yet to be announced.
Petroecuador, which manages Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT)-Block 43 with reserves of more than 1.6 billion barrels of oil, has reportedly said that a “Yes” vote to ban exploitation of the area would lead to $13.8 billion in lost income for the country over the next two decades.
Bernardo Arevalo bagged a landslide victory in Guatemala’s run-off election on Aug. 20. The anti-corruption leader from the progressive Movimiento Semilla party amassed 58% of the votes to become Guatemala’s next president.
Outgoing president, conservative Alejandro Giammattei, has promised a peaceful and orderly transition of power. However, Arevalo, the son of the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan Jose Arevalo, will have a laundry list of problems to tackle once in office. He inherits a country marred by poverty, violence, and corruption. Plus, his party is under investigation for allegedly falsifying the citizens’ signatures, accusations Arevalo’s strongly contested.