Voters on Sunday appeared to clear the way for socialist President Rafael Correa to try to “reinvent” Ecuador, the continent’s most politically unstable country, giving his supporters a majority of seats in a new constitutional assembly.
Exit polls showed Correa’s National Alliance slate leading in a majority of races in several provinces. Pollster Hugo Barber here of the Quito-based Datanalisis firm said he expected Correa’s candidates to take at least 70 of 130 seats in the assembly.
That would allow Correa to draft this country’s 20th constitution in line with his avowed socialist policies, and draw the country closer to Venezuela and its charismatic anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez.
Ecuador is considered an ally in U.S.-funded efforts to stem narcotics trafficking, and allows regional interdiction flights from its Manta air base. But Correa has vowed not to renew the U.S. military’s lease.
The president told reporters Sunday night that with his majority in the new assembly, his bloc would push to dissolve the Congress.
The constituent assembly could convene in November. A new constitution would require approval by two-thirds of voters in a referendum.
Correa took office in January vowing to reform Ecuador’s corrupt and inefficient party system. He has been vague about what a new constitution would contain, but has hinted that he may ask the assembly to end a single-term limit on presidents. He also is expected to ask the assembly to redraft the law to allow for nationalization of all natural resources, including oil.
A U.S.-educated economist, Correa employs rhetoric that at times has been as anti-U.S. as that of Chavez, referring to the United States as “the empire.”
Ecuador’s seventh president in a decade, Correa has hit rough spots, but his approval ratings have remained over 50%. Although the elites, particularly those in Guayaquil, the economic center, are cool to him, most Ecuadoreans embrace his reforms, analysts said. A partial count Sunday showed Correa with 52% of the vote in Guayas province, home to Guayaquil.
“These results show there is a divorce between the centers of power and majority of Ecuadorean people,” analyst Ricardo Noboa Bejarano told a TV reporter Sunday night.
“This is a major victory for the government,” former Vice President Eduardo Peña said.
Analyst Sebastian Hurtado of the Profitas consulting firm said Correa’s good showing was a result of a weak and disorganized opposition. Others said it was an expression of voters’ dissatisfaction with capitalist policies that have failed to deliver economic benefits. Correa has vowed to reject a U.S.-Ecuador trade agreement.
Some are fearful of what they see as Correa’s authoritarian streak, reminiscent of his mentor, Chavez. “Correa has taken the Venezuelan agenda as a road map,” Hurtado said.
Correa has been in a running battle with the media during his nine months in office and, like Chavez, is about to found a state-owned TV station, with a $5 million grant from Chavez. The government recently bought the Telegraph, one of the nation’s oldest newspapers.
The president has latched on to an Ecuadorean revolutionary and former president, Eloy Alfaro Delgado, much as Chavez did with Simon Bolivar, and made him the guiding spirit of his “Socialism for the 21st Century,” a phrase borrowed from Chavez.
Election observers from the Organization of American States criticized Correa’s use of public events and advertising to sway voters but cited no irregularities.