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Ecuador Votes With Crime and Economy at the Top of the Ballot

Tens of thousands of police officers and army personnel were stationed at polling stations in Ecuador on Sunday, as voters choose between former lawmakers Luisa González or Daniel Noboa to become the country’s next president.

Crime remains at the forefront of Ecuador’s run-off vote, months after the high-profile assassination of another presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, who was slain days before the August 20 first-round poll.

The killing became a tragic symbol of the country’s worsening security situation, where rival criminal organizations have been meting out brutal and often public shows of violence in the country’s streets and prisons in their battle to control drug trafficking routes.

Voter turnout was “historic” at 82.33% despite initial security concerns, Ecuador’s National Electoral Council president Diana Atamaint said after polls closed Sunday.

“We will inform the country of the first results as the votes are processed,” she said.

Earlier Sunday, Atamaint said voting was going “smoothly” in 90% of the electoral precincts but alluded to irregularities in the remaining precincts. Authorities have been asked to investigate a social media video that allegedly shows ballots being marked in favor a candidate in the northeastern Sucumbios province, she added.

Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata also assured the country in a news conference that there had been no security incidents to report.

The candidates

Noboa, the son of a banana tycoon, was a lawmaker before outgoing President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the legislature and called for early elections.

The 35-year-old center-right candidate, from the Acción Democrática Nacional party, has pledged to create more work opportunities for the young, bring in more foreign investment, using technology to fight crime, and has suggested several anti-corruption measures including sentences for tax evasion.

But some experts doubt the feasibility of his positions. “A lot of what he has suggested to do is expand the social safety net with money that Ecuador does not have,” Will Freeman, a fellow in Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN.

González, of the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana party, is seen as a protégé of former leftist President Rafael Correa. The former president, who still wields great influence in the country from exile in Belgium, has supported her run. He was sentenced in absentia in 2020 to eight years in prison for aggravated bribery, a charge he has repeatedly denied.

González has promised to enhance public spending and social programs and wants to address the security crisis by fixing the root causes of violence, such as poverty and inequality. A former tourism and labor minister in Correa’s government, González has also called for the judiciary to be reinforced to help with prosecutions, analysts say.

González was the frontrunner in the first round of voting. Her supporters remember Correa’s era as marked by economic growth – while detractors point to corruption allegations that clouded the period.

Tough job ahead

Before Ecuador was transformed into one of the most dangerous countries in the region, it was known as a relatively peaceful nation that was nestled between two of the world’s largest narcotics producers, Peru and Colombia.

Its deep ports, dollarized economy, and corruption have since made it a key transit point for drugs making its way to consumers in the US and Europe. The mounting violence, paired with a lack of economic prospects, have also compelled many Ecuadorians to leave the country.

“We are not sure [what] will put an end to this because we cannot live with that fear” of crime, small business owner César Ortiz told CNN en Español in Quito ahead of the poll.

Ortiz said he hopes the new president will focus not just on security but on the economy because “there are so many people who are unemployed, that is why crime [is] abound.”

Whoever wins on Sunday may gain a cursed chalice, say analysts covering the region. “Governing Ecuador right now is hell – this presidency is designed to eliminate you from political life,” Freeman said.

The new president will have relatively little time to work on a solution to the country’s woes. They will hold office only until 2025, which would have been the end of Lasso’s term – a short window for even the most seasoned politician to turn things around in the country.

Source : CNN World