The assassination of a prominent contender in Ecuador’s presidential race threw a spotlight on the violence roiling a formerly tranquil country caught up in the illegal international drug trade as voters went to the polls on Sunday.
Ecuadorans chose a successor to Guillermo Lasso, who called a snap election to avoid an impeachment trial barely two years after his election. Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. local (1200 GMT), and voting was to continue until 5:00 p.m.
Following a tumultuous campaign in which the eight presidential candidates campaigned in bulletproof vests, soldiers have been deployed across the small South American country to protect the vote.
Ecuador has recently become a haven for foreign drug lords looking to export cocaine, sparking a deadly struggle between local gangs.
The period leading up to the election was marred by a number of political assassinations, with Fernando Villavicencio’s murder just 11 days before the vote highlighting the difficulties the nation was facing.
“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.