Ecuador election officials ratify slain presidential candidate’s replacement

Quito, Aug 16 (EFE).- Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) cleared the way Wednesday for Christian Zurita to take the place of the assassinated Fernando Villavicencio as the presidential candidate of the centrist Construye (Build) party in the Aug. 20 elections.

The leftist Citizens Revolution party had challenged Zurita’s candidacy, pointing to a record of his registration as a member of a different party.

But Zurita said that the signature on the registration form was a forgery and the handwriting analysis commissioned by the CNE concluded the signature was not his.

Though some technical issues remain to be resolved, CNE chair Diana Atamaint told a press conference that votes cast for Villavicencio – whose name and photo remain on the ballot – will be assigned to Zurita.

In light of Villavicencio’s murder last Wednesday after a campaign rally, the government plans to deploy more than 100,000 police and soldiers to ensure the safety of the process, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said during the same news conference.

Events will be monitored on a “minute-to-minute” basis from three command posts, he said.

So far, 44 candidates for various offices have requested security Zapata said.

Citizens Revolution leader Rafael Correa, who was Ecuador’s president from 2007-2017, told EFE Wednesday that Villavicencio’s murder was the result of a right-wing conspiracy to hurt his party’s presidential candidate, Luisa Gonzalez.

“It’s evident that it’s a conspiracy, that the police are implicated. And who does this conspiracy benefit? The Ecuadorian political right, because they need a political massacre like this to blame us, to stop us from winning in the first round,” he said in an interview in Mexico City.

Villavicencio was a fierce critic of Correa’s administration.

“Only a political massacre could impede our triumph in the first round and that massacre was the brutal assassination of a bitter enemy of ours, Fernando Villavicencio. He was in fourth or fifth place (in the polls). So he was more valuable to them dead than alive,” Correa said.

The former president referred to videos of the moments leading up to Villavicencio’s killing, insisting that he was “led into a trap” and “delivered to the murderers.”

Right before the shooting, Correa said, Villavicencio was ushered into a different vehicle than the armed-plated one that brought him to the rally in Quito.

“They create an entire narrative that we had threatened Villavicencio and we are guilty of the assassination. And that, of course, has hit our candidacy very hard and has changed the electoral table,” Correa told EFE.

He expressed particular concern about the rise in the polls of Jan Topic, a security consultant with a military background who is campaigning on a promise to crack down on violent crime.

Observers in Ecuador have likened Topic to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who combines authoritarian policy with a hipster image.

“They are these candidates who are raining down in Latin America and other parts of the world, the dictators 2.0 who trample human rights, overbearing but ‘cool,'” Correa said. “They use social media, they talk to young people, make TikToks, but they are troglodytes.”

Since leaving office, Correa has lived in his wife’s native Belgium. He is currently unable to return to Ecuador because of a conviction for alleged corruption during his tenure as president.

When EFE asked about a possible return to Quito if his party wins the election, Correa said that he will go back to Ecuador “at some point.”

“It’s not something that keeps me awake at night,” he said. EFE

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