Ecuadoreans choose a new president on Sunday, with many voters weary of painful economic austerity measures and eager for a return to socialism, encouraging left-wing candidate Andres Arauz who hopes to win without needing a runoff vote.
The 36-year-old economist, a protege of former president Rafael Correa, leads in polls on promises to make $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion) in direct cash payments to families and to disavow the conditions of a $US6.5 billion ($A8.5 billion) IMF financing package.
His main rival, Guillermo Lasso, has been hurt by his image as a conservative banker, and pollsters say the possibility of low voter turnout due to the pandemic could dent his support. Lawyer and Indigenous activist Yaku Perez is third in the polls.
An Arauz victory would extend Latin America’s return to leftist policies, already evident in Argentina and Bolivia, a challenge for Washington as it duels with China for influence in the hemisphere.
“We have to continue convincing (people), so that … our victory, the victory of hope, will be in a single round,” Arauz wrote on his Facebook page on Friday.
“Let’s do this right away.”
A brutal coronavirus outbreak last year left bodies uncollected on the streets of Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. Lockdowns around the world slashed fuel demand and prices for oil, Ecuador’s main export, battering an economy also reeling from sharp cuts to government spending.
President Lenin Moreno, a former Correa ally, drove a pro-market agenda on hopes of reviving a sluggish and heavily indebted economy. His efforts sparked an angry backlash, with 10 days of violent street protests in 2019 against a planned fuel price hike.
Ecuadorean law makes voting mandatory and applies a $US40 ($A52) penalty for abstention.