Noboa wins Ecuador presidential race, pledges to rebuild country

By Alexandra Valencia, Yury Garcia

QUITO/GUAYAQUIL (Reuters) -Business heir Daniel Noboa on Sunday won Ecuador's presidential election, vowing to rebuild the South American country, which is struggling with a weak economy and rising crime and violence.

Thirty five-year-old Noboa, a surprise qualifier for the run-off in the early election, has pledged to improve the economy and create jobs for young people, as well as to house dangerous criminals on prison ships.

"Tomorrow we start work for this new Ecuador, we start working to rebuild a country seriously battered by violence, by corruption and by hate," Noboa told supporters during brief remarks in the seaside town of Olon.

"From tomorrow Daniel Noboa starts work as your new president," he added.

Noboa will face the significant challenge of righting an economy - which has struggled since the coronavirus pandemic and motivated many thousands of Ecuadoreans to migrate - and sharply rising crime, including increases in murders, robberies and prison riots.

The violence, which the outgoing government blames on drug gangs, reached a crescendo during the campaign with the murder of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who was shot dead while leaving a Quito campaign event in August.

Ecuador has all the elements needed to be a global example of progress, Noboa has said. He will have just 17 months to govern, serving a truncated term from December this year until May 2025.

Noboa, who has said he will be Ecuador's youngest-ever president, would be able to run again in the regularly-scheduled 2025 contest.

His victory fulfills a long-held family ambition - he grew up accompanying his banana baron father Alvaro during the latter's multiple failed attempts to become president.

Noboa had won more than 52% of the vote, while his leftist adversary Luisa Gonzalez won about 48%, with more than 90% of ballot boxes counted.

Gonzalez congratulated Noboa on his victory.

"Daniel Noboa, our profound congratulations, because this is democracy," Gonzalez told supporters in Quito, calling on Noboa to fulfill his promises to students and the elderly.

Noboa's win marks a rebuke by voters of Gonzalez's mentor, former President Rafael Correa, who has continued to wield considerable political power since he left office, despite a corruption conviction.

Gonzalez had pledged to bring back many of Correa's social programs, boost the economy with international reserves and fight crime.


Noboa supporters celebrated in the streets of Guayaquil as final vote tallies came in.

"We need new blood and not the old politics that have done us so much harm," said student Eduardo Chavez, 23. "Our president should waste no time and work very hard to put the brakes on insecurity."

Noboa made a special point to woo young people, as did Gonzalez, with events at universities toward the end of the campaign. About a quarter of the 13 million Ecuadoreans obliged to vote are between the ages of 18 and 29.

Noboa has said he will balance meeting Ecuador's foreign debt obligations with the needs of the population and pledged to beef up security at ports and airports, hot spots for drug smuggling.

Analysts have said a Noboa victory initially could be perceived as positive by investors, but longer-term outlook will depend on his cabinet appointments.

Polls had shown the contest would be much closer, with several putting the two candidates within the margin of error of each other.

Noboa formed his own party, National Democratic Action, ahead of the election. It won the third-highest number of seats in August legislative elections.

National electoral council president Diana Atamaint said the trend toward Noboa's victory was irreversible.

Authorities will look into a social media video showing a person marking multiple ballots in the province of Sucumbios, she said in the afternoon.

About 825 Ecuadoreans in Nicaragua, Russia, Belarus and Israel were not be able to vote either because of a lack of consular presence or war, in a move criticized by Correa on social media.

Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso called the election early to avoid impeachment on charges he disregarded warnings of embezzlement at a state company. He has denied the charges.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito and Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; additional reporting by Tito Correa in Canuto and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Diane Craft, Bill Berkrot, Deepa Babington and Gerry Doyle)