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Ecuador votes, Correa expected to win easily
Sun Apr 26, 2009 3:47pm EDT
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By Maria Eugenia Tello
DURAN, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuadorians voted on Sunday in an election incumbent President Rafael Correa was expected to easily win, even as the economy flags, because of solid support for his welfare programs.
Polling stations were busy into the afternoon 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.
An early exit poll seen by Reuters on Sunday gave Correa 56 percent of the vote and a 27-point lead over his nearest rival.
Correa needs more than 40 percent of the vote 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 to build true democracy, which means a more fair and more equal homeland," the 46-year-old Correa said after voting.
Voting in Ecuador is mandatory, but turnout on Sunday was expected to be higher than usual because new rules extend suffrage to people over 16. Some prisoners, troops, policemen and citizens abroad were also allowed to vote for the first time.
Critics say Correa is running roughshod over Ecuador's democracy by concentrating power in the executive branch and forming a tribunal his allies will likely dominate.
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.
But a risky decision last year to stop paying $3.2 billion of debt he deemed "illegal" may backfire as he finds it harder to borrow to cover spending promises amid falling oil revenues.
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.
"I voted for Correa because the country needs political stability and because he has known how to use state resources," said Karla Arcos, 38, voting in the fast-growing, working-class town of Duran on the hot coastal plains.
"But if he commits the errors of his predecessors, we will topple him like we did with so many others."
The former missionary, who keeps a photo of the Pope by his desk along with photos of his friends Chavez and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, vows to protect his poor and lower-middle-class supporters from the global financial crisis. Continued...
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