About 17 per cent of Ecuadoreans were still unsure about their mandatory vote as they decide who of the two candidates offers the best remedies to the political turmoil that has forced out three presidents in 10 years in the poor Andean country.

Stark contrast

Marta Zabala, a pregnant housewife in the impoverished August 28 barrio outside Guayaquil city, said: "I'm not sure who. If either does anything for the country it will be a surprise. They forget about places like this. For me, it will probably be Alvaro."

Noboa, 56, who is Ecuador's wealthiest man, won an October first-round vote with a populist campaign offering jobs and cheap housing.

The stark contrast between the two candidates reflects a broader split in South America, where Chavez has drawn support with his message of socialist revolution to counter US influence and free-trade policies.

Correa spooked Wall Street and centrist voters with promises to overhaul congress and renegotiate foreign debt, but he has gained momentum after softening his tone.

Electoral authorities said they expect initial results as early as Monday morning, but the very tight race and Correa's charges of possible vote rigging have raised concerns of possible post-election protests.

Both men come from the port city of Guayaquil, where coastal areas live off tuna and shrimping and rural roads are lined with the banana plantations that make Ecuador the world's top exporter of the fruit.