Car horns in Quito blared in celebration Sunday as banana empire heir Daniel Noboa, 35, became Ecuador's youngest-ever president-elect, vowing to "restore peace" to a country ravaged by a bloody drug gang war.
After the electoral authority declared him the victor and socialist rival Luisa González conceded defeat, Noboa vowed that "tomorrow we begin work to rebuild a country that has been severely hit by violence, corruption and hatred."
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 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 former journalist Villavicencio's assassination, and Noboa and González both campaigned, and voted, in bullet-proof vests and with heavy security details.
On Sunday, Noboa told supporters in his home town of Olón in the southwest his goal was "to restore peace... to bring back education to the youth" and create jobs.
Ecuadoreans voted for 10 hours Sunday with no reports of violence, watched over by some 100,000 police and soldiers.
"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 in Quito, citing crime as his main worry. "I am voting in fear, not knowing what will happen."
The main concerns of Ecuadorans, according to opinion polls, are crime and violence in a country where the murder rate quadrupled in the four years to 2022.
Noboa, who obtained some 52 percent of the vote according to a near-complete count, was elected to only 16 months in office to complete the term of incumbent Guillermo Lasso, who called a snap vote to avoid possible impeachment for alleged embezzlement.
Under the law, Noboa can run again for the 2025-2-29 presidential term, and the one after that.
Both run-off candidates were relative unknowns in politics.
Noboa is the son of one of Ecuador's richest men, who himself has five failed presidential bids to his name.
The president-elect, whose only political experience is two years as a lawmaker, calls himself "centre-left" but embraces neoliberal economic thinking.
He ran on the ticket of the brand-new National Democratic Action alliance, which incorporates parties from the centre and left of the political spectrum.
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 reiterated Sunday that he intends to "give progress to a country... that has all the elements to be a global example."
González 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, González took the most votes in the first round in August with 34 percent, followed by Noboa with 23 percent.
On Sunday, she offered her "profound congratulations" to Noboa, "because this is democracy."
Addressing supporters in Quito, González also said she would not be claiming fraud.
With 13 lawmakers in his corner out of 137 in parliament, Noboa will not have an absolute majority backing his legislative projects, 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 about 18 million, and the election authority said turnout was above 82 percent.
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.
by Santiago Piedra Silva, AFP