Ecuador President Declares Victory in Re-Election

President Rafael Correa, a leftist economist who has championed the poor and alienated international investors, appeared headed for easy re-election Sunday in a break with Ecuador's history of political instability.

Partial unofficial results accounting for more than three-quarters of ballots cast showed Correa winning more than half the vote in an eight-candidate field, making him the first president elected in Ecuador in 30 years without a runoff.

Correa, who vowed to rid the small Andean nation of its corrupt political class when first elected, declared victory moments after polls closed. He sang his party anthem, danced 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."

He later flew to Quito to celebrate his "historic victory" with music and fireworks with thousands of partisans.

International observers reported no serious irregularities in the voting Sunday.

With 6 percent of the vote counted, official results gave Correa 49.2 percent compared to 30.5 percent for former president and coup leader Lucio Gutierrez, his closest competitor.

An unofficial count of 77 percent of the vote by the independent citizens' group Participacion Cuidadana gave Correa 51.2 percent to 28.9 percent for Gutierrez. Banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, who Correa defeated in a 2006 runoff, had 11.3 percent.

To win without forcing a runoff, a candidate needed either 50 percent of the vote plus one or at least 40 percent 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. Exit polls indicated Correa's Alianza Pais party and allies would win a majority in the new congress.

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

Correa, 46, blames the global economic crisis on capitalism's "structural flaws" and has alarmed foreign investors by defaulting on foreign debt payments and for tough dealings with oil companies and other multinationals.

He's also imposed some of the world's strictest protectionist measures, mostly as tariffs, as oil revenues have plummeted in Ecuador's petroleum-based economy. That has put imported goods out of reach for many consumers.

But Correa has largely won over the lower classes. He tripled state spending on education and health care, doubled a monthly payment for single mothers to $30 and launched subsidy programs for small farmers and people building their own homes.

"I voted for Correa because there is honesty in his government. He's very different from the others and gets things done," 56-year-old dentist Manuel Guerrero said after casting his ballot.

Gutierrez says Correa has put Ecuador on the road to ruin as recession digs in and unemployment and consumer prices rise.

"Ecuadoreans have shut down their businesses and they're going to neighboring countries, and fewer foreign investors will come," he said during campaigning.

Analysts predict a tough year for the U.S. and Belgian-educated Correa. Oil revenues fund 40 percent of the national budget, and many question how he can maintain social spending with the sharp drop in oil prices.

"His government may have little choice but to resort to the same international financial institutions that had been the target of his political attacks," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.

Correa severed ties with the International Monetary Fund in 2007, calling it exploitative of countries like Ecuador for imposing loan requirements that benefit bankers and private interests at the expense of the poor.