Ecuadorans headed to the polls Sunday in a presidential election tarnished by the murder of a top candidate, which cast a spotlight on the violence ravaging a once-peaceful nation caught up in the illicit global drug trade.
Polls opened at 7:00 am local (1200 GMT) and voting was to go on until 5:00 pm as Ecuadorans picked a successor to Guillermo Lasso, who called a snap election to avoid an impeachment trial just two years after his election.
Soldiers have been deployed across the small South American country to secure the vote following a tense campaign in which the eight presidential candidates have campaigned in bulletproof vests.
Ecuador has in recent years become a playground for foreign drug mafia seeking to export cocaine, stirring up a brutal war between local gangs.
Several political assassinations marked the run-up to the vote, with the murder of serious presidential contender Fernando Villavicencio just 11 days from the election underscoring the challenges facing the country.
“These are completely atypical elections, in a situation basically of horror that Ecuador is going through… due to the existing violence, but which manifested itself in a more acute and atrocious way” with Villavicencio’s murder, political scientist Anamaria Correa Crespo told AFP.
In 2022, the country hit a record of 26 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the rate in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.