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, August 11, 2008

Ecuador's Correa seen winning tough referendum vote

By Alonso Soto

QUEVEDO, Ecuador, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Armed with plenty of oil cash to spend on the poor, Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa is expected to win a tough vote next month to expand his powers despite discontent over inflation and a soft economy.

The charismatic ex-college professor is betting his political future on a Sept. 28 referendum to pass a new constitution that could allow him to stay in power until 2017 and boost his control over the OPEC nation's economy.

A win will give Correa powers to remove opposition politicians from key institutions such as the courts, and shield him from the kind of political upheaval that has helped oust his three predecessors over the last decade.

Support for his proposed constitution had dipped, but at least three recent polls now show Correa is picking up momentum and pollsters expect him to win the vote.

"He is without a doubt the most popular president this country has had in 30 years with a 65 percent approval rating," said Informe Confidencial pollster Gandhy Espinosa. "It will be a close race, but Correa has shown he does well in campaigns."

Correa is not taking any risks ahead of the poll. He has used oil funds to give cash hand-outs to the poor and hike subsidies to farmers who for months have complained the former economy minister is letting the economy go sour.

The tough-talking leader has also boosted his popularity with the poor by seizing companies linked to a banking crisis a decade ago when many lost their savings.

"He has been the only president to show courage and take what those thieves took from Ecuadoreans 10 years ago," said Luis Alfonso Vivero, a stocky fisherman who waited hours to greet Correa in the humid, coastal city of Quevedo.

Still, Correa's proposals are not as radical as those of his left-wing allies in Latin America. His close ties to Venezuela's socialist leader Hugo Chavez have worried investors but he has showed pragmatism and is not copying his ally's drive to nationalize key industries.

Last year, Venezuelans rejected Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms to allow him to run for re-election indefinitely, and Bolivia's President Evo Morales has inflamed deep divisions in his poor country with plans to rewrite the constitution to grant more powers to the Indian majority.

With just more than a year in office, Correa has already won two landslide votes on the constitution -- one ballot to create an assembly to draft reforms and another on its members -- and increased his influence in the top electoral court.


If passed, Ecuador's new constitution will allow Correa to run for an immediate second consecutive term and control monetary and lending policies. Under the current constitution, presidents may run again, but only after a gap of one term.

The opposition brands Correa as an autocrat who seeks dictatorial powers in the world's top banana exporter, but their influence has waned.

A Cedatos-Gallup poll released on Thursday showed support for Correa's proposed constitution rose 9 points from the last survey to 41 percent, with 35 percent opposed.

An Informe Confidencial poll released in late July and conducted in the two main cities of Quito and Guayaquil also showed support jumping 7 points to 47 percent.

However, Ecuador's economy is weakening and the inflation rate has surged to almost 10 percent.

Correa's popularity has also been dented by his clash with influential Roman Catholic bishops over abortion and gay union provisions in the constitution, even though he is a devout Catholic.

"In this country you don't insult priests," said Espinosa, referring to Correa scolding the bishops as "liars." "It will certainly make things more difficult for him."

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