The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Partial results: Ecuador to hold runoff

Ecuador's presidential election heads to a second round after a banana tycoon who favors strong relations with the U.S. narrowly defeated a leftist admirer of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in the first round on Sunday.

With 60 percent of the ballots counted, Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's wealthiest man, surprised many political analysts by leading with 26.8 percent of Sunday's vote, compared to 22.3 percent for Rafael Correa, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. Correa had topped the latest polls before the election.

A Nov. 26 runoff had been expected as none of the 13 candidates appeared likely to win outright in recent weeks. The winner needed 50 percent, or at least 40 percent of the valid vote and a 10-point lead over the rest of the field to avoid a runoff.

Correa, 43, a tall and charismatic firebrand, urged his followers to keep a close watch on the official vote count, warning that if he doesn't win, "it means fraud and grave irregularities."

"We have to win by such a wide margin in the second round ... that they can't deny the citizens' victory," he said at a news conference, insisting that his vote total was at least 10 percentage points higher.

Noboa, 55, countered that Correa was acting like a "spoiled brat" because voters had given him "a whipping." The businessman, making his third run for the presidency, had moved up quickly in the polls in recent days.

"In the second round there are two clearly defined options," Noboa said. "The people will have to choose between Rafael Correa's position, a communist, dictatorial position like that of Cuba, where people earn $12 a month, and my position, which is that of Spain, Chile, the United States, Italy, where there is liberty and democracy."

Earlier Sunday, Correa had demanded that the Organization of American States remove the head of its election observation team, accusing him of failing to recognize irregularities in the vote. The chief observer, former Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa, denied he was biased and said Ecuador was meeting international standards for a clean election.

Correa has also accused the U.S. of meddling in the election.

Both U.S. and Venezuelan officials - apparently wary of tilting the race with ill-advised comments, as both have done in recent Latin American elections - have been studiously silent about the rise of Correa, who last month called President Bush "tremendously dimwitted."

Correa had surged toward the end of the campaign by pledging to mount a "citizens' revolution" against the discredited political system. That resonated with Ecuadoreans, who forced the last three elected presidents from power.

A victory by him would further push Latin America to the left, with Ecuador joining left-leaning governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Correa, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, is new to politics. He served just 106 days last year as finance minister under interim President Alfredo Palacio, who replaced Lucio Gutierrez in the midst of street protests in April 2005.

Correa has said he opposes a free-trade pact with the U.S. and would not renew in 2009 an agreement that allows the U.S. to use an Ecuadorean military base for drug surveillance flights.

He also vowed to renegotiate contracts with oil companies to secure more profits for his country's coffers. Although a relatively small producer, Ecuador's 535,000 barrels a day account for 43 percent of the national budget.

Noboa, who drove a red Mercedes Benz to a polling station to vote, thanked Ecuador's poor for their support and said he would keep his promises.

Noboa, who owns 110 companies and says he's Ecuador's biggest investor, has pledged to use his business skills to bring Ecuador's poor into the middle class. Many Ecuadoreans have been attracted to his promises to provide cheap housing and create a million jobs in this small Andean nation of 13.4 million people, 76 percent of whom are poor, according to UNICEF.

Public opinion analyst Luis Eladio Proano said the "rise of Alvaro Noboa in the preferences is due to his concrete offers. He touched the principle needs of the Ecuadorean people."

With a Bible under his arm and frequent references to God in his speeches, Noboa had crisscrossed Ecuador, handing out computers, medicine and money.

Standing in line to vote in a school patio in Quito's colonial center, Julio Lopez, a 55-year-old tailor, said he planned cast his ballot for Correa.

"If he governs well, perfect. But if he doesn't, we'll use the same belt he used for his campaign to run him out of office," he said. During the race Correa brandished a belt and promised to "give the lash" to the country's corrupt politicians.

But Carmen Ibarra, a 42-year-old housewife, said her vote was for Noboa because "he knows a lot about business and that will help a lot in government."

Associated Press

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