Contact Us

Ecuador heads to polls in 'climate of fear' after candidate killing

Published August 20,2023

Ecuadorians were voting to elect a new president on Sunday in what observers called a "climate of fear" following the assassination of candidate Fernando Villavicencio on the campaign trail just a week before election day.

Eight candidates are running for the highest office in Sunday's early elections, taking place as the country remains shaken by a wave of violence.

Luisa González from the camp of former president Rafael Correa is considered the favourite to win, followed by the indigenous environmental activist Yaku Pérez and the German-born former vice president Otto Sonnenholzner.

Some 10 days after the shock killing of Villavicencio, the president of Ecuador's electoral authority, Diana Atamaint, said at the start of the elections that peace and democracy were being "defended by all of us.

"Despite the events of the past weeks, which have caused great suffering to Ecuadorians [...] these acts of violence will not stop us."

The armed forces, police and electoral authorities had put in place a security plan that would guarantee peaceful, orderly and secure elections, Atamaint said. "Today democracy wins, today Ecuador wins."

The situation was nevertheless very tense, political analyst Andrés González told dpa.

"The elections are very dangerous, there is a climate of fear," González said. "For us, this situation is strange. It's never been the case that you have to be afraid when you go to a polling station."

Candidates went to vote wearing bulletproof vests and surrounded by security forces, and the military showed an increased presence with tens of thousands of soldiers in the streets and at polling stations.

Security was stepped up at eight polling stations in conflict zones in Esmeraldas province in the north-west of the country, the newspaper El Universo reported. In these areas, ballot papers were being handed out by military officers.

In Esmeraldas, located on Ecuador's Pacific coast and border with Colombia, another local politician was murdered Monday. Ecuador serves as a transit country for cocaine, with crime syndicates fighting over drug trafficking routes.

Villavicencio, shot dead on August 9 after a campaign event in the country's capital, Quito, had announced a crackdown on corruption and crime.

The government of the South American country has blamed organized crime for the assassination. Ecuador serves as a transit country for cocaine, and several crime syndicates are battling for control of the smuggling routes.

"We will change the course of our Ecuador," Sonnenholzner wrote on X, the platform formerly known Twitter, on Sunday. González, the favourite to win, also backed the change card, saying: "Vote with the belief that better days with security and prosperity will come soon."

Indigenous environmental activist Pérez meanwhile posted about "constructing a new Ecuador." Quito-based analyst González told dpa: "Everyone is selling hope as like it's a special bargain deal."

In addition to the president, the 13 million vote-eligible Ecuadorians are also called on to elect National Assembly members and vote on two referendums - on oil production in the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon region and mining in the cloud forests of the Chocó Andino.

If no presidential candidate wins an absolute majority or at least 40% of the vote and a 10-percentage-point lead over the runner-up, a run-off will take place on October 15.

The most recent opinion polls show that no candidate is likely to win outright in the first round.