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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Correa foes fragmented before Ecuador assembly vote

By Patrick Markey

QUITO, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Rolling through Quito in a white campaign truck, ousted Ecuadorean president Lucio Gutierrez chants his party's message into a microphone like a mantra: vote for us against soaring prices, communism and tyranny.

Foes are eager to brand President Rafael Correa a demagogue and investor's nightmare, but that may not keep him from winning a majority on Sunday in a new assembly he says should dissolve Congress and curb the country's traditional elites with a new constitution.

"If Correa wins in a fair vote we will be the first to recognize that," Gutierrez told Reuters as he waved from his open-bed truck. "We will not support projects for people to stay in power, totalitarian projects and communist projects."

The leftist Correa is still riding high in popularity after his reform message propelled him to the presidency last year in a country where many are fed up with traditional parties blamed for instability that has toppled three presidents in a decade.

The U.S.-educated, former economy minister now wants to secure a majority in the 130-member assembly to purge Ecuador's courts and institutions of party influence and push through key bills that have been blocked by Congress.

Opponents have raised the specter of Correa copying his ally Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, who used a similar assembly in 1999 to shore up presidential powers that six years later helped set his OPEC nation on a socialist path.

Correa's talk about a new socialism and foreign debt restructuring has worried investors.

But while opposition parties clashed with Correa over the assembly, they remain splintered, handing his Alianza Pais movement an advantage in securing a 66-seat majority it needs to pass constitutional reforms, analysts said.

"I don't see other national leaders who can challenge him," said Felipe Burbano, a political analyst in Quito. "The opposition has weakened in recent months, ceding ground."


Many Ecuadoreans say they are confused over the 3,224 candidates, the flood of proposals and a complex proportional representation system for assigning seating in the national assembly, which is set to debate for six months.

Gutierrez has emerged as a leading opposition figure after his brother Gilmar won a surprising third place in last year's election. Barred from political office due to past campaign irregularities, he is campaigning for his brother, who is his Patriotic Society Party's (PSP's) key assembly candidate.

A former army officer ousted in 2005 by street protests and unruly lawmakers, Gutierrez has a strong following among poor Ecuadoreans who still remember his presidency for its economic subsidies to keep food and fuel prices low.

The PSP could secure around 39 seats, but will work independently of other parties to promote investment and political stability, he said.

Banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, who lost to Correa in last year's election, has also tried to distance himself from the traditional parties and play up his business experience.

Ecuador's richest man, Noboa handed out cash and wheelchairs to the poor in the presidential vote. But stricter campaign rules have curtailed his donations this year.

"May God pay you, because we're not able to," one of his Prian party candidates said at a rally after Noboa landed in a helicopter on a soccer field in a poor Quito neighborhood.

Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot, head of the country's largest party, the Social Christians, could prove a new rallying point for the opposition although he is not himself a candidate.

"There is a vacuum in the opposition," said political analyst Walter Spurrier. "Nebot is the last opposition hope, but while Correa enjoys the support he has and does not make any huge mistakes it will be difficult for the opposition."

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