Ecuador held a special election on Sunday to choose a new president, with police and soldiers on guard against unprecedented violence, including the assassination of a candidate this month.
Front-runners include an ally of exiled former President Rafael Correa and a millionaire with a security background who promises to be tough on crime.
Authorities deployed more than 100,000 police and soldiers to protect the vote against further violence. Some Ecuadorians still say they won’t leave home for the election, even though skipping a trip to the polls could result in a fine.
“I don’t think the election will change anything,” said pharmacist Leidy Aguirre, 28, who gradually stopped going out with friends for the past three years, due to the fear of being robbed. “Not even politicians are safe.”
Candidate Fernando Villavicencio was killed on August 9 as he left a campaign rally in Quito, the capital of the once peaceful South American country. The killing exacerbated the fear of people spending time outside the home and becoming victims of robberies, kidnapping, extortion, murder or any other crimes that have become common.
The killing of Villavicencio is the third and most famous in a series of assassinations of political leaders this year.
Interior Minister Juan Zapata said this past week that the only restriction people will face when voting is the inspection of backpacks. Street vendors are not allowed near voting centers.
The election was called after President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker, dissolved the National Assembly by decree in May to avoid impeachment over allegations that he failed to intervene to end a flawed contract between of the state-owned oil transportation company and a private tanker. company. He decided not to run in the special election.
The ballots are printed before another candidate can replace Villavicencio. That is why they included the name of the late candidate, who was not among the main contenders.
Topping the polls is Luisa González, a lawyer and former lawmaker whose campaign emphasized her ties to the party of Correa, the former president who in 2020 was found guilty of corruption and sentenced in absentia to eight years of imprisonment. He has been living in his wife’s native Belgium since 2017.
Following González, the only female presidential candidate, is millionaire Jan Topic, whose promise of tough tactics against criminals has earned him the nickname “Ecuadorian Rambo;” and Otto Sonnenholzner, who led the country’s response to the pandemic while serving as the third vice president during the administration of President Lenín Moreno.
Also running is Yaku Pérez, an Indigenous man who promises to protect the environment and water from mining and oil extraction.
To win, a candidate needs 50% of the votes, or at least 40% with a 10-point lead over the nearest opponent. If necessary, a runoff election will take place on October 15. The winner will serve only the remainder of Lasso’s unexpired term, meaning less than two years.
Voters also elected a new National Assembly and decided on two ballot measures – one asking whether to stop oil extraction in a part of the Amazon forest and the other asking whether to allow the exploitation of minerals such as gold, silver and copper in the country’s forests. Andes Choco around Quito.
Voting is mandatory in Ecuador for people aged 18 to 64. Those who do not comply face a fine of about $45.
Six Colombians were arrested for killing Villavicencio.
The candidates have increased their security and Pérez appeared at a campaign rally on Thursday wearing a bulletproof vest. On the same day, Topic’s supporters were taken to a campaign rally at the convention center in Guayaquil. They left purses and backpacks on the buses and entered through a makeshift gate manned by private guards.
In addition to a universal need for safety, the new president must address an economy that is still struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Central Bank of the country reduced the expected growth for 2023 from 3.1% to 2.6%, an annual performance of the economy predicted by analysts to be lower.
Data from the Ministry of Finance said the state treasury received $991 million from oil between January and July. That’s less than half of the $2.3 billion received in the same period last year. Meanwhile, tax collections this year fell to $137 million.
Sandra Jarrín lost her job as a receptionist four years ago along with about two dozen other colleagues due to layoffs at the company in Quito where they worked. He has not been able to find a new position since then.
“Now everything is virtual, that will reduce workplaces,” said Jarrín, 52. In addition to unemployment, he worries about insecurity. “We are not safe outside, or in our homes.”