Daniel Noboa, the 35-year-old heir to one of the world’s most lucrative banana companies, will become the next leader of Ecuador after winning Sunday’s presidential election, one marred by widespread political violence and the assassination of a then-frontrunner in the race.
In Ecuador, presidential candidates must present themselves for an initial election in which, if no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two finishers go on to a runoff election. Noboa faced establishment socialist candidate Luisa González, the winner of the first round, in Sunday’s election.
On Sunday night, Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that, with 94.03 percent of the vote counted, Noboa received 52.3 percent of the vote, compared to González’s 47.7 percent.
Noboa stunned Ecuadorian political observers in August after finishing in second place in the first round of voting, who surmised that a surprisingly effective performance in the televised presidential debate elevated Noboa from also-ran to serious contender. The debate was held less than a week after gunmen killed Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist who had dedicated much of his work to exposing the corruption of socialist former president and left-wing kingmaker Rafael Correa, González’s backer. Correa’s presidency was defined by dubious oil deals with China that Villavicencio claimed cost the country $5 billion and the mass arrests of political dissidents, including Villavicencio.
In one of his last public appearances, Villavicencio – whose campaign centered around promises to eradicate drug cartels, corruption, and other organized crime – dared drug traffickers to kill him and boasted of not wearing a bulletproof vest.
Last week, police confirmed that seven men arrested in relation to the assassination of Villavicencio were themselves killed in prison.
The Ecuadorian presidential race was already chaotic before Villavicencio’s killing. Noboa’s predecessor, the current President Guillermo Lasso, used an obscure constitutional provision to dissolve both Congress and his administration, a move referred to in Ecuador as “mutually assured death.” Lasso, a conservative, announced in May that he would give up the presidency because the socialist left was abusing its impeachment powers in Congress to make it impossible for him to govern. Lasso faced 14 impeachments between 2021, when he became president, and May. The dissolution of Congress was necessary, he claimed, to replace irresponsible socialist lawmakers with a functional legislative body. Lasso refused to run in the presidential election he called.
Noboa, who turns 36 in November, will be the youngest president in Ecuador’s history. He was born in Miami and is the son of five-time failed presidential candidate Álvaro Noboa, who was most recently on the presidential ballot in 2013. He has described himself as “center-left” in the past, though campaigned as a centrist and insisted on the need to unite Ecuadorians from both sides of the political spectrum. Political experts in the country describe Noboa’s policy platform as “vague” and the president-elect as bringing “technocratic” skills to the Carondelet Palace, Ecuador’s presidential estate.
Noboa ran on the platform of the “National Democracy Alliance,” a newly formed centrist coalition, and focused on promising to decentralize Ecuadorian federal government powers and invest government funds heavily in expanding agriculture, an apparent nod to his family business. He also focused his campaign on female voters, promising to implement a $60 government bonus to pregnant women to be used to purchase healthier food and expanding both access to medical care and job opportunities for mothers.
At the heart of Noboa’s campaign was marketing the new president as a necessary fresh face for a country whose security situation was rapidly spiraling out of control, a millennial with a positive image whose popularity was fueled by TikTok memes. Noboa’s most recognizable campaign tactic following his win in the August election was the ubiquity of cardboard cutouts of the candidate. Supporters took the cardboard version of Noboa everywhere, filming TikTok videos dancing and celebrating with him.
González, in contrast, offered a return to the socialism of Correa, who is currently in exile in Belgium after the government of his successor, fellow socialist Lenin Moreno, issued a warrant for his arrest on corruption and abuse of power charges in 2018.
Correa, commenting on the election from Belgium, blamed Moreno’s “treason” for González’s loss.
“They even murdered a candidate to prevent our victory,” he added, repeating his conspiracy theory that conservative powers assassinated Villavicencio, an ardent opponent of Correa’s, whom Correa imprisoned during his presidency, to make the socialists distasteful in the public eye:
Patria querida, Patria Grande:
Esta vez no lo logramos. Enfrentamos poderes enormes. Hasta se asesinó a un candidato para evitar nuestra victoria.
La traición de Lenín Moreno sigue causando estragos, pero que nadie dude de que, al final, Ecuador volverá a la senda del desarrollo… pic.twitter.com/SGZLqptBKP
— Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) October 16, 2023
Moreno, who won the presidency on Correa’s party ticket in 2017, celebrated Noboa’s victory as a strong national repudiation of Correa.
“Because of the grave damage they did to Ecuador, Correism will never again take power,” Moreno wrote on social media. “They need to understand this once and for all: Ecuador wants peace, democracy, freedom, strong institutions, separation of powers, freedom of expression, transparency, moderation in public debt. Congratulations to the Ecuadorian people for an election of peace and democracy!”
Noboa issued only a brief statement on Sunday night acknowledging his victory in the election, thanking his supporters and promising to “work for a country that has been hit by corruption, violence, and hate.”