Whoever wins will take over from President Lenin Moreno on May 24 and will immediately face an economic crisis exacerbated by a 7.8 percent contraction in GDP in 2020.
Ecuador's presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso holds a 5.5 percentage point lead over left-wing economist Andres Arauz in the country's runoff election, with 90 percent of poll statements tallied, according to National Electoral Council data.
Left-wing economist Andres Arauz won the first round of the election in February, garnering almost 33 percent of the vote, on promises of generous cash handouts and a resumption of the socialist policies of his mentor, former President Rafael Correa.
Arauz's rival, banker and third-time presidential candidate Lasso, is promising to create jobs through foreign investment and financial support for the agricultural sector. Lasso won just shy of 20 percent of the first-round ballots.
High percentage of undecided voters
Pollsters say the results will hinge on a relatively high percentage of undecided voters.
"At the last minute I decided on Lasso, I think he is the only option," said Margarita Alvarado, 42, a manicurist voting at a school in Quito. "I don't want to go back to the arrogance, to the corruption, to the handouts of the past decade."
Earlier, the elections council said the vote was proceeding without incident and that citizens were respecting social distancing measures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Whoever wins will take over from beleaguered President Lenin Moreno on May 24 and will immediately face an economic crisis exasperated by a 7.8 percent contraction in GDP in 2020.
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The oil-exporting nation's economy was already weak due to low crude prices when the coronavirus outbreak started. The pandemic has pushed a third of the population into poverty and left half a million people unemployed.
Moreno, who did not seek re-election, imposed painful austerity measures as part of a $6.5 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund, but was unable to kick-start the economy.
Indigenous activist Yaku Perez, who narrowly lost out to Lasso for a slot in the runoff, is calling on supporters to spoil their ballots to protest what he called electoral fraud in the first round.
"I don't trust either of the candidates, they have both been corrupted by the usual political parties," said Mirella Parraga, 43, a homemaker, after voting null at a polling station in central Guayaquil, the country's biggest city.
"I don't want to give my vote to someone who will make the situation in this country worse."
Arauz, 36, has offered to give $1,000 to a million families as soon as he takes office, as well as provide benefits to young people such as free internet access.
His plans are being closely watched by foreign investors who hold Ecuadorean bonds, some of whom have expressed concerns about heavy spending plans in the face of the government's delicate finances.
Lasso has tried to soften his conservative image by promising to fight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and boost protection of animal rights.
Both candidates are calling on supporters to "take care of the votes" and denounce irregularities on voting day and during the vote tallying process.
Overall debt is almost $64 billion – 63 percent of GDP – of which $45 billion (45 percent of GDP) is external debt.