Polls closed in Ecuador’s presidential and legislative election on Sunday after a campaign darkened by bloodshed, amid voter hopes the winner will bring the country out of a spiral of violence and economic troubles.
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.
An early exit poll after voting ended at 5 p.m. local time (2200 GMT) showed Luisa Gonzalez, a protege of leftist former President Rafael Correa, leading with nearly 33% of the vote.
Former lawmaker Daniel Noboa notched a surprise second-place finish with 20.5% of the vote, according to the poll.
Jan Topic, a businessman who says he served in the French Foreign Legion and who pledged to make the country’s security problems his top priority, was just behind Noboa with 18.3%.
Initial official results were beginning to be posted by the council.
The candidates have 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 the murder of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, a former investigative journalist and lawmaker who was gunned down while leaving a campaign event earlier this month. Villavicencio’s party subsequently chose Christian Zurita to replace him.
Voters at the polls in Quito, the capital, and Guayaquil said security was their major focus.
“First is security, and then the economy and jobs. Without security there isn’t investment, there aren’t companies, there aren’t jobs,” said Patricia Simbana, a public employee who voted at an elementary school in the capital where Zurita cast his ballot amid a scrum of journalists and heavily armed soldiers.
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.
The cyber attacks on the webpage for voters abroad were launched from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia and China, said Diana Atamaint, the president of electoral council.
“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.
More than 82% of those who are required to vote did so, Atamaint added. Voting is mandatory for those between 18 and 65.
Gonzalez, who had led polls heading into the election, has promised to free up $2.5 billion from international reserves to bolster Ecuador’s economy.
She also promised to bring back social programs implemented by Correa – who has since been convicted of corruption – during his decade in power.
Noboa, the 35-year-old son of prominent banana businessman and former presidential candidate Alvaro 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 – both expected to pass – that could block mining in a forest near Quito and development of an oil block in the Amazon.
Voters also were electing 137 members of the national assembly.