Daniel Noboa, the heir to a banana fortune who pledges a hard line on rocketing violent crime, employment for the young and foreign investment, will become Ecuador’s youngest ever president at 35 after winning by a margin of around five points over his rival, the leftist lawyer Luisa González.
With 90% of votes counted on Sunday night in Ecuador, Noboa had 52.29% of the vote against 47.71% for González, according to Ecuador’s electoral council.
Luisa González, the hand-picked candidate of the former president Rafael Correa, accepted her defeat in a concession speech of the kind that is increasingly unusual in the region. Speaking late on Sunday she pledged her support for the new president in passing reforms in congress, provided he did not privatize state resources.
“We have never called for a city to be set on fire, nor have we ever gone out shouting ‘fraud’,” she told followers.
Speaking to supporters on Sunday night, Noboa said: “Tomorrow we start to work for this new Ecuador, we start working to rebuild a country seriously battered by violence, by corruption and by hate.
“From tomorrow, hope will start working. From tomorrow Daniel Noboa starts work as your new president.”
The US embassy in Ecuador tweeted congratulations to Noboa and “highlighted the commitment of Ecuadoreans to democracy in the electoral process”.
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This election was held against a backdrop of a spike in violent crime fuelled by drug trafficking, which has turned the country into one of the most violent in the region, with the fourth-highest homicide rate – higher even than Mexico.
Noboa, the millennial son of Ecuador’s richest man and five-time presidential candidate Álvaro Noboa, was the surprise entry into the second round in August. His calm and unconfrontational style made him popular, particularly with voters aged between 18 and 29 who make up a third of the electorate.
The Harvard Kennedy School graduate focused his campaign on creating jobs and the economy, recommending tax exemptions and incentives for new businesses as well as pledging to attract more foreign investment.
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On crime, Noboa proposed putting the most violent criminals on ships off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. He also suggested boosting the military presence on the borders and coast, both of which are trafficking points for cocaine.
Arianna Tanca, an Ecuadorian political analyst, said the stakes were high and urged the former congressman to think about the “future of the country and not preserving his square metre of power”.
Noboa is due to be sworn in on 25 November but will only govern for 17 months until 2025 – completing the term of outgoing president, Guillermo Lasso, who dissolved congress in May during an impeachment trial and called snap presidential and legislative elections.
“It’s a short time but it is time that is precious and can be used for good so let’s see if the politicians are up to the bar,” Tanca said.
“Ecuadoreans need peace, we can’t stand the violence any more, this war,” said Carla Espinoza, voting in Quito on Sunday.
The presidential campaign has been marked by unprecedented violence, including the assassination in broad daylight of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio as he left a campaign event in August. This month, seven Colombian suspects in the assassination were themselves murdered in prison.
The US government has offered a $5m reward for information leading to the “arrest or conviction of the intellectual authors” behind Villavicencio’s murder.
Luisa González, who ex-president Rafael Correa had hoped would succeed him. Photograph: Luisa González/Reuters
Ecuador’s Pacific ports are targeted by drug traffickers smuggling cocaine, most commonly in shipping containers holding bananas, the country’s top export. About 80% of cocaine smuggled from Ecuador was bound for Europe, the country’s interior minister, Juan Zapata, told the Guardian, where a kilo of cocaine fetched a street price of about $50,000 – twice as much as in the US.
Zapata said Ecuador, positioned between Colombia and Peru, the world’s main cocaine-producing countries, needed international help to tackle a “common transnational enemy”. Homicide rates have risen fivefold since 2019, according to the Ecuadorean Observatory on Organised Crime, due to violence between local gangs allied with Mexican drug cartels, Colombian guerrilla groups and Balkan traffickers.
The president-elect will hold around 10% of the seats in congress and could struggle to find consensus to push through legislation among Ecuador’s fractious political class.
“There is so much to do,” Zapata said. “I hope that the new congress dedicates itself to [dealing with the security situation], unlike the previous one that wasted so much time and hurt the country.”