Car horns in Quito blared in celebration Sunday as banana empire heir Daniel Noboa, 35, became violence-riddled Ecuador’s youngest president-elect ever.
With 90 per cent of votes counted, the electoral authority announced Noboa as the victor.
Moments earlier, socialist rival Luisa Gonzalez conceded defeat and offered her “profound congratulations” to Noboa, “because this is democracy.”
Addressing supporters in Quito, Gonzales also said she would not be claiming fraud.
Ecuadorans voted for 10 hours Sunday with no reports of violence in a country gripped by a bloody drug war and a rash of political assassinations that cut short the bid of a popular candidate.
Some 100,000 police and soldiers were deployed to keep the vote safe, while Noboa and Gonzalez both cast their votes in bulletproof vests just weeks after a rival was murdered.
Both candidates had vowed to prioritize the escalating violence.
“May we elect the best president because (he or she) will govern a country that is destroyed… to address all these problems such as insecurity,” Indigenous voter Ramiro Duchitanga told AFP in Cuenca in Ecuador’s south.
“It is a critical election,” added Freddy Escobar, a popular 49-year-old singer, citing crime as his main worry. “I am voting in fear, not knowing what will happen.”
The main concerns of Ecuadorans, according to recent polls, are crime and violence in a country where the murder rate quadrupled in the four years to 2022.
– Drug violence –
Long a peaceful haven between major cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as enemy gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control.
The fighting has seen at least 460 inmates massacred in prisons since February 2021 — many beheaded or burned alive in mass riots.
The bloodbath has spilled into the streets, with gangs dangling headless corpses from city bridges and detonating car bombs outside police stations in a show of force.
In August, the violence claimed the life of anti-graft and anti-cartel journalist and presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, mowed down in a barrage of submachine-gun fire after a campaign speech.
He had been polling in second place.
A state of emergency was declared after Villavicencio’s assassination, and Noboa and Gonzalez both campaigned, and voted, with heavy security details.
– ‘Change this country’ –
Noboa was elected to only 16 months in office — completing the term of incumbent Guillermo Lasso, who called a snap vote to avoid possible impeachment for alleged embezzlement.
He can run again for the 2025-29 presidential term, and the one after that.
Both runoff candidates were relative unknowns.
Noboa is the son of one of Ecuador’s richest men, who himself has five failed presidential bids to his name.
Ecuador has a poverty rate of 27 percent, with a quarter of the population unemployed or holding down an informal job.
Opinion polls list unemployment as voters’ second concern.
Noboa has promised “progress for everyone” and vowed to prioritize job creation.
Gonzalez was the handpicked candidate of socialist ex-president Rafael Correa, who governed from 2007 to 2017 and lives in exile in Belgium to avoid serving an eight-year prison term for graft — another major concern in the country.
From eight candidates, Gonzalez took the most votes in the first round in August with 34 per cent, followed by Noboa with 23 percent.
Noboa will not an absolute majority backing his projects in the legislature, and with only 16 months in office, will face an uphill battle to push through any reforms, analysts say.
Voting is compulsory for 13.4 million eligible voters in the country of 16.9 million.
After images on social media showed a person appearing to fill out multiple ballots in favour of Noboa, the head of the National Electoral Commission, Diana Atamaint, promised an “immediate” investigation.