Elections in Ecuador, between normality and the war scenario

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It is not easy to decide what is normal and what is not, but the Electoral Council of Ecuador defined this Sunday as "absolute normality" during the first hours of the presidential elections. In a way, it was. All the polling stations in the country were able to open their doors and citizens went to the polls without major inconveniences. There are images, however, that question the normality of early elections marked by the murder of one of the presidential candidates 10 days ago. Fernando Villavicencio's replacement, Christian Zurita, arrived at the ballot box surrounded by soldiers and shields as if he were reaching a war front, wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest. For Ecuadorians, normality is long overdue.

The messages that came through the networks and on television warned voters not to take backpacks or bags to the voting centers, they also advised going to vote alone. The schools opened early throughout the country for the 13.4 million citizens who can participate. The early risers did so with the idea that in October they would have to vote again in a second round that is almost assured. Although there are always exceptions. Diego Roncero, 65, contradicting all the polls, is sure that Zurita will be proclaimed president this Sunday: "he will win the vote of anger against drug traffickers and drug politics."

In these atypical elections, you arrive at the polls somewhat blindly. The latest polls were published a day before Villavicencio's assassination, so it is not easy to know if the assassination will play a role in the results, as Roncero maintains. According to all known polls, the correĂ­smo candidate, Luisa GonzĂĄlez, would lead, although far from winning in the first round. Doubts are set on who will be her opponent in October.

A soldier guards a polling station, this Sunday in Quito. Jose Jacome (EFE)

The rest of the candidates also voted amid tight security, some wearing bulletproof vests and others surrounded by a protective circle. President Guillermo Lasso, who is not running for re-election, assured that with these early elections he would return to the people the power that he gave them to govern. Lasso decided to shorten his term by surprise last May, when he announced the dissolution of the Assembly and the electoral call. The president was then immersed in a political trial for alleged corruption. The president who wins at the polls - now or in October - will govern only until the end of Lasso's term, that is, 18 months.

A year and a half that seems short for the challenges that Ecuador faces and that have become evident in this campaign. Insecurity is already the main concern for all citizens and tackling it does not seem easy. In these last three years, violence has grown hand in hand with the increased presence of drug trafficking groups from Colombia and Mexico, which have established themselves in the country and fight for control of the areas, especially on the Pacific coast. In places like Guayaquil, some polling stations are armored to ensure the safety of citizens who have long since stopped walking the streets calmly.

That fear is what one of the most sounding candidates to reach October and who this Sunday was convinced of his options intends to capitalize on. "We are in the second round," warned Jan Topic after voting with his family in SamborondĂłn. Topic, a perfect unknown before this campaign, has gained popularity thanks to a strong-armed speech against insecurity that supports the method of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador.

The results will begin to be known from five in the afternoon (local time) when all schools are expected to close. The biggest problems registered have come from abroad, where voters from several countries have complained that the telematic system that is released in this electoral appointment does not allow them to vote normally. The National Electoral Council has asked them for patience: "Due to the high demand for voters, we urge compatriots to be patient while the information is processed."

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