Ecuador's election race has been thrown wide open after the assassination of serious contender Fernando Villavicencio, whose last-minute replacement, a journalist, will face off against a leftist lawyer and a right-wing former sniper nicknamed "Rambo."

Other leaders in the eight-person race are a leftist Indigenous leader and a former vice president.

The victor of the snap election will only serve for a year and a half -- the remainder of the term of outgoing President Guillermo Lasso.

Here is a brief look at the frontrunners:

- Luisa Gonzalez -

Luisa Gonzalez, a 45-year-old lawyer close to leftist former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017), was considered the frontrunner until second-placed Villavicencio was gunned down in the days before the election.

The murder tarnished her party's image, forcing Correa to deny involvement in the killing of his rival, whose journalistic investigations contributed to him being sentenced to eight years in prison for corruption.

Correa fled to Belgium where he has been living in exile for six years.

Gonzalez told AFP that internal polls showed her Citizen Revolution Movement had lost support.

Gonzalez, who enjoys running, cycling, and has several tattoos, sees herself as a defender of Correa's socialist legacy.

"I have publicly said that one of my advisors will be Rafael Correa," Gonzalez said in an interview with AFP.

The mother of two has said her priority if elected will be fighting "the serious infiltration of drug trafficking" that has ravaged the once-peaceful nation.

- Christian Zurita -

The 53-year-old journalist was named as the candidate for the Movimiento Construye just four days before the election -- replacing his friend and fellow reporter Villavicencio.

"I am almost certain that he was assassinated because he said he would militarize the ports," Zurita told journalists Thursday, surrounded by armed police and private security guards, vowing to pursue the same goal.

Ecuador's ports have become a key point for foreign mafia shipping cocaine to Europe and the United States, sparking a brutal war between local gangs jockeying for control of drug routes.

"There is a transnational mafia behind his killing."

- Jan Topic -

Political analysts say the candidate who has seen the biggest boost to his popularity in the wake of Villavicencio's killing is the 40-year-old right-wing businessman Jan Topic.

Nicknamed "Rambo," the former paratrooper and sniper with the French Foreign Legion has vowed to wipe out criminal gangs and build more prisons, emulating El Salvador's Nayib Bukele.

He assures that he is the only candidate with the "mettle and determination to act" against organized crime.

- Yaku Perez -

Indigenous environmental attorney Yaku Perez, 54, is taking his second run at the presidency after claiming fraud left him out of the run-off in 2021.

Perez was born Carlos Ranulfo Perez, but in 2017 legally changed his name to Yaku Sacha Perez, which in Quechua means "Water of the Mountain."

Aside from running for president, he has also pushed a "Yes" vote in two referendums taking place on the same day, one to halt oil drilling in the Amazon, and another to ban mining in the Choco Andino forest.

"It will be a message to the world that, in Ecuador, life is taken care of... and that we have the ethical authority to be able to combat global warming," he told AFP.

He has authored eight books on law and the environment, and believes "lack of education, impoverishment" is leading the country to become "a hotbed of criminals."

The son of uneducated farmworkers, Perez grew up in "absolute poverty" in the countryside.

He had to become the main caretaker for his two daughters after their mother died of cancer 13 years ago. He later re-married French-Brazilian journalist Manuela Picq.

He plays the saxophone and accordion, is an atheist, a vegan and yoga practitioner. Like many in the tense election, he campaigned clad in a bulletproof vest.

- Otto Sonnenholzner -

Economist Otto Sonnenholzner, a businessman of German descent, got a taste for politics after being appointed vice president under former president Lenin Moreno in 2018, but resigned after 19 months.

"I am a pragmatic, practical person," he told AFP in an interview, summing up his plan for Ecuador as "peace, money, and progress."

Married, with three children, he takes pride in his prowess in track, basketball, volleyball and soccer.