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Ecuadorians Electing New President 

People queue to vote at a polling station during the presidential election, in Canuto, Ecuador, Oct. 15, 2023.
People queue to vote at a polling station during the presidential election, in Canuto, Ecuador, Oct. 15, 2023.

Frightened by unprecedented violence on the streets and within prisons, Ecuadorians have a universal demand for the president they are choosing Sunday — safety.

The runoff election in the South American country pits an heir to a banana empire, Daniel Noboa, against an attorney, Luisa González. Both have limited governing experience and will undoubtedly have their work cut out.

The election comes as more Ecuadorians become victims of drug-related violence that erupted roughly three years ago and intensified in August, when a presidential candidate was assassinated in broad daylight. People continuously watch their backs and limit how often they leave home. The uneasiness even pushed Noboa to add a bulletproof vest to his daily outfit.

Whoever wins with a simple majority of votes will govern for only 15 months, until May 2025, which is what remains of the tenure of President Guillermo Lasso. He cut his term short when he dissolved the country's National Assembly in May as lawmakers carried out impeachment proceedings against him over alleged improprieties in a contract by a state-owned company.

Lasso, a conservative former banker, clashed constantly with lawmakers after his election in 2021 and decided not to run in the special election.

Minutes before polls opened, Lasso called on Ecuadorians to have a peaceful election and think about what is "best for their children, their parents and the country." He said voters have the wisdom "to banish demagoguery and authoritarianism as they look toward a tomorrow of peace and well-being for all."

He added that the government would ensure security, transparency and respect for the election results.

Under Lasso's watch, violent deaths soared, reaching 4,600 in 2022, the country's highest in history and double the total in 2021. The National Police tallied 3,568 violent deaths in the first half of 2023.

The spike in violence is tied to cocaine trafficking. Mexican, Colombian and Balkan cartels have set roots in Ecuador and operate with assistance from local criminal gangs.

Voting is mandatory in Ecuador for people ages 18 through 64. Those who don't comply face a fine of about $45. Polls will close in the late afternoon, and results were expected Sunday evening.

"I don't expect much from this election," Julio Ricaurte, a 59-year-old engineer, said Sunday near one of the voting centers in northern Quito, the capital. "First, because the president will have little time to do anything, and second because the (National) Assembly in our country is an organization that prevents anyone who comes to power from governing."

Noboa and González, both of whom have served short stints as lawmakers, advanced to the runoff by finishing ahead of six other candidates in the election's first round on Aug. 22.

Noboa, 35, is an heir to a fortune built on Ecuador's main crop, bananas. His political career began in 2021, when he won a seat in the National Assembly and chaired its Economic Development Commission. He opened an event organizing company when he was 18 and then joined his father's Noboa Corp., where he held management positions in the shipping, logistics and commercial industries.

González, 45, held various government jobs during the decade-long presidency of Rafael Correa, her mentor, and was a lawmaker until May. She was unknown to most voters until Correa's party picked her as its presidential candidate. At the start of the campaign, she said Correa would be her adviser, but she has recently tried to distance herself a bit in an effort to court voters who oppose the former president.

Rosa Amaguaña, a 62-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor, said Sunday that safety "is the first thing that must be solved" by the next president.

"I'm hopeful the country will change," Amaguaña said. "Yes, it can. The next president must be able to do even something small."