Outgoing President Rafael Correa is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office. A large segment of the Ecuadorian electorate is undecided, making it difficult to predict the election outcome.
Voters in Ecuador are going to the polls Sunday to decide whether to keep the country's left-of-center government in office or shift to the right.
The equatorial country has been led by Socialist President Rafael Correa of the past 10 years. The 53-year-old economist remains fairly popular but is prohibited by the constitution from seeking a third term in the oil-rich country.
Correa ally Lenin Moreno is hoping to continue the president's tax-and-spend social policies. The 63-year-old leads in opinion polls but appears unlikely to win by a large enough majority to avoid a run-off vote that, if necessary will be held on April 2.
"The Ecuadoran people have affection [for us] and are determined to continue with this process," he said at a recent campaign event.
The country's economy has made considerable gains over the past decade but has been buffeted in recent years by depressed oil prices.
Moreno needs to garner at least 40 percent of the vote and lead his nearest opponent by 10 percent to avoid the run-off. A recent poll put him within striking distance of that criteria, with 38.6 percent of the vote, and leading his nearest rival by 13 points.
But a huge swath of the electorate - more than 30 percent - is undecided ahead of the vote.
Moreno's nearest rival is conservative ex-banker Guillermo Lasso, 61.
Cutting taxes and spending
He wants to cut spending and taxes, lure foreign investment and create a million jobs. Lasso has also slammed Correa's allies over alleged links to a corruption scandal.
"We have to vote for change to fight against corruption," Lasso said at a campaign rally this past week.
The third-placed candidate is conservative former lawmaker Cynthia Viteri, 51.
Analysts are split over which direction the country is likely to take if a run-off vote becomes necessary.
"Any party could beat the governing one in the second round because there is major resistance to and rejection of the government," said political scientist Paolo Moncagatta of Quito's San Francisco University.
But Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington cautioned, "It is a mistake to underestimate the strength of support for Correa's side."
Voters will also be electing a new 137-seat parliament.
Polling stations are open from 1200 GMT to 2200 GMT. Results are expected from about 0100 GMT Monday.
Assange at risk
The fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may also hang in the election's balance. Assange has been holed-up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past five years, avoiding extradition to Sweden where he faces at least one sexual assault allegation.
But he is also under investigation in the Untied States for possible espionage charges which could land him a 45-year-prison sentence - should he ever be extradited.
bik/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)