Presidential candidate Luisa González arrives at a polling station in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Aug. 20, 2023.
CNN  — 

Luisa González, of the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana party, on Sunday took a lead in the first round of Ecuador’s presidential and legislative elections, which have been marred by political assassinations as the Andean nation struggles with a wave of violence that has brought homicide rates to record levels.

Gonzalez is set to face the surprise second-place finisher Daniel Noboa in a run-off election in October, according to the National Electoral Council of Ecuador (CNE), as neither candidate won more than 50% of the ballot.

“These preliminary results already show a trend that guarantees that Ecuadorians will go to a run-off on October 15,” CNE president Diana Atamaint said Sunday.

González is seen as a protégé of former leftist President Rafael Correa – who still wields great influence in the country and has supported her run from exile in Belgium. The former president was sentenced in absentia in 2020 to eight years in prison for aggravated bribery, a charge he has repeatedly denied.

González has promised to enhance public spending and social programs and wants to address the security crisis by fixing the root causes of violence, such as poverty and inequality. A former tourism and labor minister in Correa’s government, González has also called for the judiciary to be reinforced to help with prosecutions, analysts say.

Daniel Noboa is the son of banana businessman Álvaro Noboa – who himself has run for the presidency at least five times. The 35-year-old was a lawmaker before outgoing President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the legislature and called for early elections.

Ecuador presidential candidate Daniel Noboa makes remarks as he arrives to participate in a presidential debate on August 13.

The centrist, from the Accion Democratica Nacional party, has pledged to create more work opportunities for the young, bring in more foreign investment, and has suggested several anti-corruption measures including sentences for tax evasion.

Crime has topped the agenda of this year’s presidential race, which was punctuated by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, an outspoken anti-corruption journalist.

His killing has put a spotlight on a recent escalation of violence, fueled by a cocaine boom, which has seen transnational criminal organizations and local gangs engage in high-level graft and extortion, overrun prisons, and murder anyone who gets in their way.

Days after Villavicencio’s murder, a left-wing local party official, Pedro Briones, was shot dead in Esmeraldas province.

Gunfire interrupted Noboa’s caravan on Thursday as he was traveling in Guayas province, but authorities say the presidential candidate was not the target of the incident.

Candidates wore bulletproof vests on election day while security forces were stationed outside polling stations amid threats of violence.

Villavicencio’s replacement, Christian Zurita, cast his vote in the capital Quito surrounded by heavy security protection from Ecuador’s police and armed forces.

A different threat, however, emerged on Sunday when authorities reported cyberattacks from several countries, including Russia, Ukraine, China and Bangladesh, on the country’s telematic voting platform. The attack affected access to the vote, the country’s National Electoral Council said, but it added that votes recorded were not violated.

The mounting violence and lack of economic prospects have compelled many Ecuadorians to leave the country.

But the winner of October’s run-off vote will have relatively little time to work on a solution. They will hold office only until 2025, which would have been the end of Lasso’s six-year term – a short time frame for even the most seasoned politician to turn things around in the country, experts say.