An Ecuadoran voter at a rally ahead of the country's 2023 first-round vote. (AP)

Explainer: Who Are the Two Candidates Competing in Ecuador's Presidential Runoff?

By Jon Orbach

Luisa González and Daniel Noboa will face off in the country’s October 15 runoff to replace Guillermo Lasso. AS/COA profiles the candidates.

As presidential candidates Luisa González and Daniel Noboa traverse their country on the campaign trail, they’re each donning an extra garment: a bulletproof vest. In a country long hailed as one of Latin America’s safest, it's an unfortunate trend.

As international criminal organizations increasingly use Ecuador as a cocaine transit hub, the country saw its homicide rate jump 245 percent between 2020 and 2022. Violence has extended to politics; anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated just 11 days before the August 20 presidential first round. At least two other politicians have been killed in this electoral process. 

Ecuador wasn’t originally supposed to have an election this year. It was triggered by President Guillermo Lasso’s May dissolution of both the legislature and the presidency. But now, the country could now get either its first-ever woman elected president or its youngest elected president of all time. The two candidates, both of whom are former lawmakers, will finish out the equivalent of Lasso’s term, which ends in 2025.

While neither was well-known before entering the competition, both have connections that bolster their recognition. González, representing the Citizen Revolution Political Movement, has campaigned for bringing Ecuador back to the times of ex-President Rafael Correa (2007–2017), who has backed her campaign from his exile in Belgium. Meanwhile, Noboa—representing National Democratic Action—is the son of five-time presidential hopeful Álvaro Noboa and former lawmaker Anabella Azín. At 35, he would be the world’s youngest president after Burkina Faso’s Ibrahim Traoré.

Going into the runoff, who’s the favorite? Polls point to Noboa. Sebastian Hurtado of Quito-based political risk firm Prófitas agrees, reckoning Noboa has the edge but faces challenges. “The most significant liability that Noboa has is the potential for him to [be seen as] the candidate for continuity of the Lasso government instead of the candidate of change,” says Hurtado.

AS/COA Online spoke to experts to better understand the candidates competing to be Ecuador’s next president.

Luisa González

Once a National Assembly candidate for the right-wing Social Christian Party in 2007, González, 45, has since changed tack. A leftist correísta legislator since 2021—and until Lasso’s May 2023 dissolution of the Assembly—González held various positions during Correa’s decade in power from 2007 to 2017, including as vice minister of tourism. The ex-president continues to assert his influence from abroad; González was his hand-picked candidate. Much of González’s campaign has focused on supporting his leftist populist movement and investing in social welfare programs. She won 33.6 percent of the vote in the first round—the most of any candidate. 

“After all that has happened in the past few years in terms of increased violence, deteriorating public services, and an ineffective Lasso government, many people started to somehow have nostalgia for the Correa years, which looked—in perspective—better,” says Hurtado. “She could have won the election in the first round. And that just didn't happen because Fernando Villavicencio was killed … It goes to show how strong correísmo still is.”

But many observers say she will have a hard time gaining more support. “González has potentially reached her voter cap, and she has no margin to grow in the runoff,” says Laura Lizarazo, a senior Andean region analyst for Control Risks. Her opponent, says Lizarazo, has more room to grow as he can attract young and anti-correísta voters.

On the issues

González, if elected, would become Ecuador’s first-ever elected woman president. “By itself, it's a highly relevant symbol that might be a milestone for a country that is highly conservative, where women especially are affected by poverty, malnutrition rates, elevated levels of sexual violence in daily life and in public spheres,” says Lizarazo. She notes, though, that González is not a socially progressive politician and that her selection wouldn’t necessarily translate to policies benefitting women.

When it comes to security issues, her plan to tackle nationwide violence begins at its roots: social reintegration programs and job creation. “So far, she hasn't proposed anything like an iron hand approach to the security crisis. And in that regard, her [security] proposals are not so different from those pushed by Noboa,” says Lizarazo.

González’s stance on abortion has drawn attention, given that she voted against the procedure even in cases of rape and incest—a stance more restrictive than Ecuador’s current laws.

But to what degree would she be able to usher through legislation to accomplish her agenda? In the National Assembly, Citizen Revolution gained six seats, reaching 53 of 137. It’s the largest party in the body but it still doesn’t reach 50 percent and other left-wing parties lost ground. 

Fun fact: On the campaign trail, a young girl gifted González a rabbit, which the candidate named Victoria. González—a known animal lover—has various pets, including two dogs, but has asked for no more animals as gifts.

Daniel Noboa
Daniel Noboa

Noboa, 35, hails from Guayaquil and is the son of Ecuador’s richest man, a banana tycoon who himself tried for the presidency five times. The younger Noboa, who has various U.S.-based degrees, was a lawmaker from 2021 to May 2023. His appearance in the election’s only debate on August 13, where he was the only candidate to sport a bulletproof vest, drew acclaim for his calmness and preparedness. He won 23.5 percent of the vote in the first round, defying poll expectations. 

“People are so tired of confrontations of discussions where in the end, it's always the same,” says Carmen Sánchez-Laulhé of the strategic communications firm Atrevia. She notes that Noboa is relatable to people as he appears like a “normal guy,” who has avoided engaging “in any kind of fear campaign.”

As opposed to other candidates, Noboa, who frames himself as center-left, steers clear of taking a position on correísmo. Hurtado explains, “There's demand for something that's not necessarily aligned with what we have been seeing for the past 15 years in terms of this conflict between correísmo and anti-correísmo. Daniel Noboa took advantage of that, and I think he will keep taking advantage of that because there's a clear political opportunity there." His age helps him appeal to younger voters who don’t have nostalgia for Correa’s time in office, continues Hurtado, adding that it “helps reinforce the narrative that he’s the new thing.”

With his increase in visibility, however, comes increased scrutiny. There’s been a row, for example, over his running mate Verónica Abad saying that education should be privatized. “[She] has made very controversial statements in the past [that make her look] very, very right wing. It has frustrated some support for Noboa,” says Hurtado.

On the issues

Noboa centered his campaign on improving employment and the economy, advocating for tax exemptions and incentives for new businesses as well as the creation of an independent entity to audit public debt. Lizarazo says that as a businessman, Noboa surprised observers by backing the outcome of an August 20 referendum in which almost 60 percent of Ecuadorans voted against oil exploration in Yasuní National Park. González, meanwhile, has indicated she would disregard the referendum results. 

When it comes to security, Noboa has proposed putting the most violent criminals on ships off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. He also suggested establishing a military presence on the borders and coast, both of which are trafficking points for cocaine. But Lizarazo notes that while Noboa has shifted his stance on certain security-related policies, he still hasn’t suggested "a radical militarization approach to security. Instead, he also proposes, like González, increasing public investments in social policies, promoting job creation, and addressing the social roots of violence and crime.”

Noboa’s approach contrasts with that of Jan Topic, the candidate who finished fourth in the first round and a former soldier who likened himself to El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele, known for his iron-fist policies against gangs. Following Topic’s loss, though, he announced his support for Noboa.

In terms of foreign policy, Noboa made headlines when, in September 2022, eight months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he paid for seven legislators’ travel expenses to Russia for a diplomatic trip. He is the president of the Interparliamentary Group of Friendship between Ecuador and the Russian Federation. Russia is one of the biggest destinations for the Noboa family’s bananas, and he has traveled there several times, per his ex-wife

He faces a similar legislative problem as González. In the National Assembly, his National Democratic Action won 20 seats, behind Citizen Revolution’s 53 and Villavicencio’s Build Movement’s 28. As such, the party will have to work with other parties to pass legislation—the same challenge Lasso has faced. 

Fun fact: Before university, Noboa was a national champion in snowboarding and even received scholarships to attend American universities to pursue the sport.