Christian Zurita is surrounded by security during the closing of his campaign. Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

Guardian Report:

Ecuador election: assassination looms large as voters prepare to go to polls

Winner of Sunday’s vote will face huge public demand to tackle violence after killing of candidate Fernando Villavicencio

Dan Collyns and Carla Valdiviezo in Quito

Fri 18 Aug 2023 07.00 EDT

The brazen assassination of a presidential candidate will hang heavy over Ecuadorian voters as they choose a new president this weekend, following the latest eruption of drug cartel violence in the once-peaceful nation.

The winner of Sunday’s vote will face an overwhelming public demand for security – but may not have the budget or the political capital to overhaul failed crime-fighting policies and fund new ones.

The killing of the journalist turned politician Fernando Villavicencio in broad daylight on 9 August – less than two weeks before the first-round vote – has transformed the presidential race. His name remains among the eight candidates on the ballot papers, but Christian Zurita, a close friend and fellow journalist, was chosen to run in his place.

Zurita, 53, has vowed to continue Villavicencio’s anti-corruption crusade and at a meeting with the foreign press on Thursday, he declared that organised crime was so deeply embedded in Ecuador that the country had become a “narcostate”.

“It is a process of total deterioration of social conditions in places that didn’t know violence,” he said.

Flanked by a special forces police officer, he said: “How long are we going to put up with it so that it doesn’t spread any further? This is going to grow and we have to stop it.”