By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuadoreans will go to the polls on Sunday to choose between one presidential candidate running on promises to improve the outlook for young people and another pledging a return to leftist social programs.
Banana industry heir Daniel Noboa, 35, has led recent polling, though at least two surveys put voting intention for him and leftist Luisa Gonzalez, a protégé of former President Rafael Correa, within the margin of error.
The campaign has been marked by violence, including anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio’s murder.
Seven suspects in that case were subsequently also killed.
Gonzalez, 45, who won 34% of the vote in a first round, says she will bring back the popular social spending which characterized Correa’s decade in power, including free medicines, increased worker protections and direct aid to those in need. She also pledged to use $2.5 billion from international reserves to shore up the economy.
Noboa, a former National Assembly member, was a surprise entrance to the run-off. He is the son of multimillionaire banana business magnate Alvaro Noboa, who himself ran unsuccessfully for president numerous times. He formed his own party and vowed to attract foreign investment and create jobs – particularly for young people.
“In contrast to other elections which were dominated by demagogic promises, in this election undecided voters – young people – are trying to understand which of the two (candidates) will be able to solve their personal concerns,” said Francis Romero of firm Click Research.
About a quarter of the 13 million Ecuadoreans obliged to vote are between the ages of 18 and 29.
A high number of voters remain undecided, Romero said.
Both candidates have tried to woo young people with promises of jobs, free education and economic benefits, while visiting universities during the campaign’s final days.
“What is expected of either candidate is that they improve the country…that they think of the youth, we want jobs with dignity” said student David Vilana, 21, in a working class neighborhood in Quito’s south, declining to say who he would back.
The outgoing government of President Guillermo Lasso, who called the early election to avoid impeachment, has blamed rising violence on the streets and in prisons on drug gangs, but has struggled to combat them.
Meanwhile the economy – set to grow just 0.8% in 2024 according to central bank estimates – is a top concern for voters.
Ecuador is the world’s top exporter of bananas and the fruit has been among exports hit by drug trafficking as smugglers secrete narcotics in shipping containers.
Gonzalez has pledged to build a new prison outside Guayaquil and take back the country from criminals, while Noboa has said the most dangerous convicts should be held on prison boats and that he will use technology to fight crime.
In recent days Gonzalez has called for unity, saying the country needs to “leave behind dirty campaigning, leave behind attacks, leave behind hate.”
Voters hope for change.
“We have the chance to elect a different party, we have been on the same path for a long time,” said Quito retiree Jose Rosero, 61, declining to say who he will support. “We want something new and I hope we don’t make a mistake.”
The winner will govern from December this year until May 2025.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Aurora Ellis)