Ecuador votes, Correa Expected To Win Easily
Monday, 27 April 2009

Ecuadoreans voted on Sunday in a presidential election that incumbent Rafael Correa was expected to win by a big margin, despite a flagging economy.

Polling stations were busy when they opened at 7 a.m. local time/1200 GMT across the volatile Andean country of 14 million people known as much for toppling presidents as its Galapagos Islands and remote Amazon tribes.

A Correa win would confirm him as the most powerful leader in Ecuador's 30-year-old democracy and mark another victory for a generation of left-wing presidents like Venezuelan Hugo Chavez who govern most countries in the region.

According to an opinion poll published Sunday, Correa received 49 percent support, far more than his seven challengers.

He needs more than 40 percent of votes and a 10-point lead to avoid a runoff election. Voters are also electing members of the National Assembly and regional and municipal officials.

"We have formal democracy, our great challenge now is build true democracy, which means a more fair and more equal homeland," the 46-year-old Correa said after voting.

A former missionary, Correa's mix of Roman Catholic morals and leftist politics is popular among poor and some middle-class voters, whom he vows to protect from the global financial crisis while using a firm hand with foreign companies.

"He's the only one interested in helping the poor get on their feet, in making changes," said candy vendor Marola Carrillo, 42, voting in the fast-growing, working-class town of Duran on the hot coastal plains.


Government figures show the Belgian- and U.S.-educated economist has reduced poverty from 40 percent to 35 percent with pensions, free school lunches and a higher minimum wage.

During two years in office he has fanned national pride by standing up to oil and mining firms in a country where many blame severe economic hardship on rapacious foreign investors.

Correa is a risk-taker. But his decision last year to stop paying $3.2 billion of debt he deemed "illegal" may backfire as oil income falls, making it hard to borrow to cover spending promises.

Slightly larger in area than Britain, Ecuador is a restless country where street protests toppled three presidents during economic turmoil in the decade before Correa took power.

Under Correa, the country has been much more stable, with left-wing activists who led protests that ousted former President Lucio Gutierrez in 2005 now working in the government. The opposition is divided and weak.

Gutierrez, a former coup leader, is running again for president four years after he was deposed. He is running a distant second in the race, with 24 percent support in the survey by respected pollster Santiago Perez. The poll was conducted Saturday.

"We are going to win today, there will be new hope for the Ecuadorean people, economic stability and investment will return," said an optimistic Gutierrez as he voted in Quito.


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