Leftist president claims election victory

President Rafael Correa, a leftist champion of the poor, declared re-election victory just moments after the polls closed – a win that breaks sharply with Ecuador’s history of political instability.

A partial unofficial count by a citizen’s group and three exit polls said Mr Correa garnered more than half the vote in an eight-candidate field, making him the first president elected in Ecuador in 30 years without a runoff.

Mr Correa, who promised to rid the small Andean nation of its corrupt political class when first elected in late 2006, danced, sang his party anthem and pumped fists with his close political advisers in his home city of Guayaquil.

“We will never defraud the Ecuadorean people,” he told cheering supporters.

“I think that’s why we received such immense support. We’ve made history in a nation that between 1996 and 2006 never saw a democratic government complete its term.”

International observers reported no serious irregularities in the voting.

An unofficial count of 56% of the vote done by the independent citizens’ group Participacion Cuidadana gave Correa 51.4% to 29.2% for former president and coup leader Lucio Gutierrez, his closest competitor.

Exit polls done for state TV and two independent channels gave Mr Correa at least 54%.

To win without forcing a runoff, a candidate needed either 50% of the vote plus one or at least 40% with a 10-point margin over his closest competitor.

Voters at home and abroad on Sunday also chose a new 124-seat National Assembly - six seats of which will directly represent the Ecuadorean diaspora – as well as governors and mayors.

The elections were mandated by the new constitution that voters approved in September by a 64% margin.

Mr Correa followed the lead of leftist ally President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela in seeking to consolidate power and extend his rule through a constitutional rewrite.

The new charter strengthens Mr Correa’s hand – giving him greater budgetary control and making him eligible to run in 2013 for another four-year term. It also makes Ecuador’s central bank less independent.

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