A populist banana tycoon and a left-wing ally of Venezuelan president Hugo
Chavez were last night heading for a run-off vote after neither won a clear
victory in Ecuador's presidential poll.
Rafael Correa a former finance minister who resigned from the government
after speaking out against a US-backed trade agreement, had seen support
surge through the campaign as he addressed mass rallies wielding a leather
belt and promising to "give the lash" to Ecuador's elite.
Leftist presidential hopeful Rafael Correa (C) is mobbed by cheering supporters after casting his vote at a school north of Quito October 15, 2006. Exit polls show that Rafael Correa and Alvaro Noboa were virtually tied in Sunday's presidential election and looked likely to be headed to a runoff. REUTERS/Teddy Garcia (ECUADOR)
After years of government collapses Mr Correa had vowed to rewrite the
constitution, curb political parties, suspend the free trade deal with
Washington and refuse to renew an accord on a US military base used to fight
But Mr Correa's opponent, the billionaire banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, gained
ground in yesterday's voting, with exit polls last night suggesting that
neither side had won a clear victory. A Cedatos Gallup poll showed Mr Noboa
with 27.2 per cent of the votes and Mr Correa with 25.4 per cent after first
round voting, while another poll showed Mr Noboa with 28.5 per cent of the
votes and Mr Correa with 26.5 per cent.
If the polls prove accurate and no candidate has won more than 50 per cent,
the presidency will be decided in a run-off next month. Latin America's pink
tide had been stemmed in recent months with a narrow defeat for Manuel Lopez
Obrador in Mexico and centrist Allan Garcia's win over Ollanta Humala in
Ecuador's election has been electrified by the looming figure of Mr Chavez,
Venezuela's theatrical left-wing President. His barnstorming speech at the
United Nations in New York in which he compared President George Bush to
Satan and complained of the smell of sulphur on the platform was rapturously
received by a growing anti-American movement worldwide.
Mr Correa was quick to see the appeal of anti-Bush rhetoric with voters in
Ecuador and noisily trumpeted his support for Mr Chavez's stand at the UN
General Assembly. "Calling Bush the Devil is offending the Devil ...
The Devil is evil but the Devil is intelligent," Mr Correa said.
These kinds of comments have struck a chord with an otherwise disillusioned
electorate, seemingly enabling him to attract an estimated one-third of
After three presidents were ousted in the last decade, many Ecuadoreans are
looking for change. More than half of the 13 million population live in
poverty, many of them indigenous communities that still speak Quechua
language before Spanish.
An economic crisis in 1999 forced Ecuador to default on its foreign debt and
assume the dollar as its currency. Last year civil unrest forced out
President Lucio Gutierrez amid claims he had abused his authority.
Although he has a middle-class background, Mr Correa is fluent in Quechua.
He also has been involved in educational programmes in poor Amerindian
areas, which are expected to give him a strong advantage in a country where
45 per cent of the population claim indigenous heritage. A second vote will
likely be close. Mr Noboa may draw on support from traditional parties such
as the Social Christians, who see Mr Correa as a threat to their influence,
but Mr Correa can appeal to voters from all social classes.
"Both are anti-political candidates taking advantage of the discredited
political establishment in Ecuador even if they are on different ends of the
political spectrum," said Michael Shifter at the Inter-American
"Whoever wins in the second round this is not exactly a recipe for
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