Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s radical transformation of his historically unstable nation, including a new Constitution that would grant him greater powers, is expected to propel the leftist economist to easy re-election tomorrow.
The 46-year-old Correa, who blames the global economic crisis on capitalism’s “structural flaws,” has spooked foreign investors with a moratorium on debt payments and tough dealings with oil companies and other multinationals.
He has imposed some of the world’s strictest protectionist measures to shield local industries, leading to criticism that his huge social spending agenda could bust the Treasury as recession takes hold this year.
But it is precisely such actions that have made Correa, a little-known economy minister just four years ago, so popular.
“Let’s bury the party-docracy,” he told supporters on Thursday night as campaigning ended, his buzzword for the corrupt traditional politics that he has long eschewed.
Since taking office in January 2007, Correa has tripled state spending on education and health care, doubled to US$30 a monthly payment for single mothers and launched subsidy programs for small farmers and people building their own homes.
Pre-election polls show Correa more than 20 percentage points ahead of his closest rival, former president and coup leader Lucio Gutierrez. Banana magnate Alvaro Noboa was running a distant third.
To win without forcing a runoff, Correa needs more than 50 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent with a 10-point margin over his closest competitor.
Under the country’s new Constitution, approved by 64 percent of voters in a September referendum, Correa would be eligible to run for a second consecutive four-year term in 2013. His current four-year term was automatically truncated by the new Constitution.
Voters tomorrow will also choose mayors, governors and a new 124-seat National Assembly. The new constitution also lowers the voting age to 16 and for the first time permits soldiers, police and prison inmates to vote.
Correa’s critics acknowledge his popularity but warn that like his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he benefited politically from oil prices that skyrocketed last year but have since come down to earth.
Ecuador’s oil-based economy grew 6.5 percent last year the government says, but petroleum revenues have dropped 67 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Correa’s governing model “has been successful in its redistribution of wealth and for directing resources to social programs but not so successful in creating new types of productivity,” said Vladimir Sierra, head of the sociology department at Quito’s Catholic University.