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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

How will the deaths of high-profile murder suspects tip Ecuador’s election?

It was a moment that plunged the Ecuadorian presidential race into chaos. As anticorruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio ducked into a vehicle at the end of a campaign rally, gunfire ripped through the crowd, killing him mere days before the first round of voting.

Now, as Ecuador prepares for the pivotal second round on Sunday — a run-off vote that will decide the country’s next president — a fresh volley of bloodshed has once again rattled the race.

On October 6, rumours began to spread online that six of the suspects arrested in Villavicencio’s assassination had themselves been murdered behind bars.

“Could it not be that the government of [Ecuadorian President] Guillermo Lasso and the Ecuador Police want to hide the truth of these events?” SOS Prisons Ecuador, a human rights nonprofit, posted on the social media platform X.

Hours later, the news was confirmed. Ecuador’s corrections agency, the National Service for Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty, or SNAI, acknowledged the suspects’ deaths, which took place in the infamous Litoral Penitentiary, known for its violence.

“All the [imprisoned individuals] were Colombian nationals and were charged with the assassination of ex-presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio,” SNAI said in its press release.

The following day, another suspect in the Villavicencio shooting was found dead in El Inca prison in northern Quito. Of the group of suspects under investigation for the assassination, only six remain alive.

The precise circumstances of the killings remain unknown. But experts and sources close to the case warned the suspects’ deaths could have wide-ranging implications for the future of politics in Ecuador.

“Five percent of voters are highly unpredictable,” pollster Omar Maluk told Al Jazeera. “If anything happens, they change their minds.”

A tight election

Maluk believes the fallout from the seven killings could weigh heavily on Sunday’s vote. The two candidates in the run-off election are in a dead heat: left-wing candidate Luisa Gonzalez and centrist business scion Daniel Noboa.

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