By Alexandra Valencia and Yury Garcia
QUITO/GUAYAQUIL (Reuters) -Business heir Daniel Noboa looks set to clinch Ecuador's presidency after voting on Sunday, tallying 52% of the vote with more than 80% of ballot boxes counted, on promises to improve the economy and create jobs for young people.
Thirty five-year-old Noboa, a surprise qualifier for the second round run-off, has also pledged to house dangerous criminals on prison ships.
His victory would fulfill a long-held family ambition - he grew up accompanying his banana baron father Alvaro during the latter's multiple failed attempts to become president.
It would also mark a rebuke by voters of his leftist rival Luisa Gonzalez's mentor, former President Rafael Correa, who has continued to wield considerable political power since he left office, despite a corruption conviction.
Gonzalez had pledged to bring back many of Correa's social programs, boost the economy with international reserves and fight crime.
Voters' top concerns largely centered on the economy, which has struggled since the coronavirus pandemic and motivated many thousands of Ecuadoreans to migrate, and rising crime, including increases in murders, robberies and prison riots.
The violence, which the outgoing government blames on drug gangs, reached a crescendo during the campaign with the murder of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who was shot dead while leaving a Quito campaign event in August.
Noboa made a special point to woo young people, as did Gonzalez, with events at universities toward the end of the campaign. About a quarter of the 13 million Ecuadoreans obliged to vote are between the ages of 18 and 29.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito and Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; additional reporting by Tito Correa in Canuto and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Diane Craft, Bill Berkrot and Deepa Babington)