Ecuador votes for president, Correa seen winning new term
By Brian Ellsworth, ReutersQUITO -- Ecuadoreans vote for president on Sunday in a ballot expected to hand incumbent Rafael Correa a new term to advance his socialist agenda of heavy government spending and expansion of state power that critics slam as creeping authoritarianism.
February 17, 2013, 3:49 pm TWN
Generous state outlays to expand access to healthcare, pave decrepit roads and build new schools have given the combative economist a strong base among the South American nation's poor.
Victory for Correa would cheer the leftist ALBA bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations at a time when the group's indisputable leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is struggling to recover from cancer.
Polls show Correa leading his closest rival by more than 35 percentage points.
Critics say Correa he is a despot who tolerates no dissent and is intent on amassing power. But the opposition's inability to unite behind a single candidate - seven opposition candidates are running - has helped give Correa a comfortable lead.
Former banker Guillermo Lasso is Correa's nearest rival in the polls, but surveys show him commanding only between 9 and 15 percent of the vote.
The Ecuadorean leader has built up an image of nationalist man-of-the-people through theatrical confrontation with oil companies and Wall Street investors.
The only Ecuadorean president in the past 20 years to complete a full term in office, he is admired for bringing political stability to a nation where leaders had been frequently toppled by violent street protests or military coups.
"We're done with the opportunists, they would take power and snatch up all the money and forget about their promises," Jorge Pazmino, 65, who upholsters vehicles, said on Thursday at Correa's final campaign rally in a working-class southern Quito neighborhood.
"Now we finally have a president who is getting things done. There's just nobody else to vote for," Pazmino added.
Pazmino said it was easier to get medical attention thanks to an overhaul of the social security system and credits the president with forcing employers to respect labor laws.
The Perfiles de Opinion polling firm recently showed Correa with 62 percent support. To avoid a second round, he needs to win at least 50 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a lead of 10 percentage points over the second-placed candidate.
Correa, 49, has ruled since 2007. In a new four-year term, he would face the challenge of securing financing after a 2008 debt default and wooing investors to boost oil output and kick-start the mining industry.
Opposition leaders call Correa a dictator in the making who is quashing free speech through hostile confrontation with media and squelching free enterprise through heavy taxation and constant regulatory changes.
Lasso has called Correa's "Citizens' Revolution" a fast food menu of unsuccessful economic policies copied from Ecuador's era of military rulers and leftist governments like Venezuela's Chavez.
"He'll have to explain how this development model is revolutionary if it's a copy of the dictatorship of the 1970s and depends on high prices for oil that is mortgaged to China in exchange for loans," Lasso said on Thursday at his final rally.