Leftist candidate Luisa Gonzalez and surprise challenger, business scion Daniel Noboa, won the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election, beating out six rivals in a race clouded by the murder of anti-graft candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
Gonzalez, a protege of former President Rafael Correa who has promised to revive his social programs, was tallying 33% support, with more than 70% of ballot boxes counted, according to figures from the National Electoral Council.
“We are celebrating because we are making history, even though so many of us have been ignored, today we begin moving toward a different history,” Gonzalez told journalists and supporters at an event in southern Quito.
Former lawmaker Daniel Noboa, son of prominent banana businessman and former presidential candidate Alvaro Noboa, was a surprise second-place with 24% of the vote.
“The Ecuadorean people have won,” the 35-year-old Noboa told journalists in Guayaquil. “The youth candidate, of the people who are seeking hope, who want to change Ecuador, has triumphed.”
Noboa said he looked forward to a second round against Gonzalez, scheduled for Oct. 15.
Anti-corruption candidate Villavicencio, who was fatally shot as he left a campaign event earlier this month, was tallying 16%.
Villavicencio has been replaced by fellow investigative journalist Christian Zurita, but appeared on the ballot because they were printed before his murder. Zurita, along with several other candidates, conceded defeat on Sunday evening.
Candidates had pledged to fight sharp increases in crime, which the current government blames on drug gangs, and improve the struggling economy, whose woes have caused an uptick in unemployment and migration.
Security took center stage in the contest after Villavicencio’s killing. Other candidates have reported attacks against them, although in several cases police have said that the violence was not directed at the hopefuls themselves.
Gonzalez supporters gathering ahead of a speech by her said they wanted a return of Correa’s programs and better work opportunities.
“I feel that as a woman she will fight for the people,” said Fany Tarqui, 52, who brought her two daughters and their dog to the rally. “I want peace and sources of work.”
“Work is scarce for everyone, that’s why migration has gotten so high,” said retired teacher Wilson Lopez, 64.
Six suspects, all Colombians who police say belong to criminal gangs, were charged with Villavicencio’s murder and are being held in custody. Another suspect died from wounds sustained in a shootout with authorities.
A webpage set up for some Ecuadoreans living abroad to cast their ballots suffered cyber attacks, the head of the national electoral council said, but the integrity of the vote was not affected by the issue.
The cyber attacks on the webpage for voters abroad were launched from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia and China, said council president Diana Atamaint.
“The online platform suffered cyber attacks that affected the fluidity of access to voting. We clarify and emphasize that the recorded votes have not been violated,” Atamaint said.
Multiple candidates had denounced problems with the webpage and Gonzalez called on Sunday evening for a do-over of the foreign vote.
More than 82% of those required to vote did so, Atamaint added. Voting is mandatory for those between 18 and 65.
Gonzalez has promised to free up $2.5 billion from international reserves to bolster Ecuador’s economy and bring back million-dollar social initiatives implemented by Correa – who has since been convicted of corruption – during his decade in power.
Noboa seemingly gained support after performing well in the only televised debate of the campaign.
A lawmaker until current President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the national assembly and called early elections, Noboa has focused his campaign on job creation, tax incentives for new businesses and jail sentences for serious tax evasion.
Also on Sunday’s ballot were two environmental referendums that could block mining in a forest near Quito and development of an oil block in the Amazon.
The vote on the Yasuni oil block showed support for a ban on development leading with 58% support, with about 24% of ballot boxes counted. A ban on mining in the Choco Andino forest was also winning with 67% support.
Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution party was leading the count for seats in the national assembly, with about 40% support, while Villavicencio’s Construye party tallied 21%, with about 35% of ballot boxes counted.