Leftist economist Andrés Arauz will compete with left-wing indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez in a run-off presidential election, according to an official projection by Ecuador's National Electoral Council.
Arauz topped the polls with 32.17 percent of the vote, but the Union of Hope (UNES) leader did not make the 40 percent threshold needed for a landslide win.
To win an election in Ecuador, a candidate must take half of the votes cast plus one, or at least 40 percent with a 10 percentage point advantage over his nearest rival.
Pérez came second in line with 19.87 percent of the vote, narrowly followed by right-wing ex-banker Guillermo Lasso who came in at 19.6 percent, despite initial exit polls that predicted he would face Arauz in the run-off.
The runner-up represents the left-wing Pachakutik party, and he is the first indigenous candidate to get this far in the presidential race.
Voting closed in Ecuador's general election on Sunday and strict Covid-19 restrictions seemed to slow down the voting process and discourage some from joining the lines for voting stations. According to official figures, 81.10 percent of eligible voters managed to cast their vote.
The country's 13.1 million voters are choosing a successor to unpopular President Lenín Moreno and the 137 members of Congress. Moreno's presidency officially ends on May 24.
National debt rose from 26 percent of GDP to 44 percent during Moreno's term, with the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbating the situation. According to government data, $6.4 billion in losses attributed directly to the health crisis.
On top of rising debts, Ecuador's new leader will have to navigate soaring unemployment rates which reached 8.6 percent last September — more than doubling in nine months.
Arauz told AFP he hopes to "build a project of national unity, in which we can have a greater level of self-criticism and invite the different segments of our society to unite on an emergency economic and health plan."
Having been described as the protege of former two-time leftist president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), Arauz has promised to return the country to a socialist path after four years of austerity under Moreno.
Correa, who is currently living in Belgium in order to evade corruption charges, tweeted as the election resorts came in "Thank you dear Ecuador! The Citizen Revolution has won overwhelmingly, despite a dirty campaign and 4 years of brutal persecution and infamy."