Party of slain Ecuador candidate taps Christian Zurita to take his place

Christian Zurita will take the place of Fernando Villavicencio in the August 20 elections, his party announces.

Christian Zurita
Zurita appeared on Sunday evening at a television studio wearing a bulletproof vest before a national debate [Martin Bernetti/AFP]

The party of Ecuador’s slain presidential candidate has tapped a reporter to take his place on the ballot as several contenders to lead the South American nation in a vote later this month.

Journalist Christian Zurita will take the place of the assassinated Fernando Villavicencio in the August 20 election, the Movimiento Construye political party announced on Sunday.

Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist known for his anti-corruption crusades, was gunned down as he left a campaign rally in the capital, Quito, on Wednesday night.

The naming of Zurita as the party’s candidate is a reversal from Saturday when Construye had said Villavicencio’s running mate, Andrea Gonzalez, would take the spot.

But party officials worried that Gonzalez’s candidacy might be thrown out by election authorities since she was already registered as the vice presidential candidate for the vote.

Villavicencio had been polling in second place before his shock assassination.

President Guillermo Lasso has blamed the murder on organised crime.

In a sign of the apprehension now pervading the campaign, Zurita and another candidate, Daniel Noboa, appeared on Sunday evening at a television studio wearing bulletproof vests before a national debate amid heavy security presence.

Zurita and Gonzalez, however, said they were barred from taking part in the debate. An election official told journalists that Zurita’s documentation had been submitted only minutes before the debate, which meant that he was not officially a candidate at the time of the event.

“Without Fernando, there is no debate,” said Zurita, 53, near the location where the other seven candidates were presenting their ideas.

On the television broadcast, the chair reserved for Villavicencio was empty.

Six Colombians have so far been arrested and another killed in the police investigation into the assassination.

At a news conference on Sunday, police commander General Fausto Salinas said those apprehended for the murder had long criminal records, having committed an “infinity of crimes” related to weapons and drug trafficking, kidnapping and theft.

Interior Minister Juan Zapata said investigators were continuing to look into who might have ordered the killing of Villavicencio.

Imprisoned gang leader Jose Adolfo “Fito” Macias had allegedly threatened Villavicencio before he was killed. Macias was transferred to a maximum-security prison via a massive military and police operation on Saturday, but no specific gang has been officially blamed for the assassination.

However, Villavicencio’s widow, Veronica Sarauz, blamed the state for her husband’s death, accusing police of not adequately protecting him.

“This is a state crime because he was under the custody of the state through the police,” she said during a news conference on Saturday.

She also blamed supporters of former President Rafael Correa, who was sentenced in 2020 to eight years in prison after Villavicencio had investigated him for corruption.

The day before his assassination, Villavicencio had filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office, alleging irregularities in oil contracts negotiated during Correa’s administration, estimating a loss to the country of about $9bn.

Source: News Agencies