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Ecuador Election: As Run-Off Looms, Voters Crave Genuine Change

Quito, Ecuador – From her small convenience store in northern Quito, Tanya Vazquez is consumed by fear.

Her modest shop has been robbed three times in the last few years, she said; in one case, the perpetrator fired a gun towards her husband, although the bullet missed. One of their sons was also robbed and assaulted in the street.

“I am very afraid, with all the crime that’s happening,” Vazquez told Al Jazeera from behind the shop counter in the Ecuadorian capital. “I just hope that whoever the new president is can at least give us some security and stability.”

Indeed, as Ecuador grapples with rising crime and political violence, many in the country are craving change. Snap elections last Sunday were overshadowed by this month’s assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent anticorruption candidate.

The election will head to a run-off on October 15, after voters narrowed the field to two contenders: left-wing populist Luisa Gonzalez and centre-right candidate Daniel Noboa, the son of a prominent banana tycoon. Gonzalez earned 33.6 percent of the vote in the first round, while Noboa earned an unexpected 23.4 percent, with more than 99 percent of votes counted.

The election was called in May by the incumbent president, Guillermo Lasso, in a bid to derail opposition attempts to impeach him over embezzlement accusations involving a state-owned oil transport company.

The winner of October’s run-off will only be in office for the remainder of Lasso’s original term, and Ecuador will once again head to the polls in May 2025.

Pivotal moment

These elections represent a pivotal moment for the small Andean nation, but it remains an open question as to whether either candidate can deliver the change voters crave.

Gonzalez represents the Citizen Revolution Movement, a left-wing organisation built around Rafael Correa, the controversial former president whose loyal followers are known as “correistas”.

“A very important part of the population is aiming for something similar to what we had during Correa’s time. People relate that to Gonzalez’s figure, so voting for her is like claiming to have that country back,” Domenica Avila-Luna, an Ecuadorian economist and political analyst at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera.

In 2020, Correa was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison on corruption charges. He held the presidency from 2007 to 2017 and is currently living in exile in Belgium.

Although his brand of politics inspired strong opposition, he remains a pivotal part of Gonzalez’s campaign and is expected to have a heavy influence on her administration if she is ultimately elected in October.

Gonzalez has said she would not issue Correa a presidential pardon.

Ecuador presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez

Unexpected contender

Noboa, meanwhile, leads National Democratic Action, and his electoral success has surprised many observers. Just days before the first round of voting, he was polling at a mere 3.7 percent, according to local pollster Comunicaliza.

The 35-year-old Harvard-educated businessman has served as a member of Ecuador’s national assembly in recent years, and analysts credit his first round success to his impressive performance in the August 13 presidential debate.

His father is one of the richest men in the country and unsuccessfully ran for president five times, including in a 2006 run-off against Correa.

But Will Freeman, a fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, draws parallels between Noboa and the unpopular Lasso.

“Noboa wasn’t a particularly distinguished member of congress,” Freeman told Al Jazeera, adding that his unfamiliarity with the inner workings of the state could lead to “a repetition of the same script”.

“He doesn’t exactly seem like somebody who has the experience to govern,” Freeman said. “Lasso’s Achilles heel was that he came into office and he didn’t know how the state worked. He struggled to manage state institutions and to deal with a large, adversarial bloc of correistas in the legislature. It could be history repeating itself here with Noboa in a very Lasso-like position.”

At the same time, Noboa’s position as the “anti-correista” could bolster his chances in the election, due to Ecuador’s reluctance to return to a brand of politics of which many are wary.

“Anti-correismo is still a strong force in Ecuador, and those sectors will probably group behind Noboa,” Freeman said.

Ecuador presidential candidate Daniel Noboa

Limited capabilities

Whoever wins the vote will face a limited term with high stakes, a reality that will curb their ability to devise tangible solutions to the problems confronting Ecuador.

Gonzalez has vowed to use $2.5bn from global reserves to boost Ecuador’s ailing economy, and to revive million-dollar Correa-era social projects in a bid to tackle crime.

For his part, Noboa has centred his agenda on job creation, tougher policies on crime, tax incentives for new businesses, and cracking down on tax evasion.

If he wins, Noboa would face strong opposition in the national assembly, as Correa’s Citizen Revolution Movement secured the largest congressional representation in Sunday’s vote – a situation that would likely complicate his tenure.

But regardless of the victor, Vazquez, like many others, is not holding out hope for drastic change during the upcoming presidency.

“It’s already gotten out of hand. It’s terrible,” she said. “Whoever wins will have to be brave in order to move the country forward.”