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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 06:45 GMT
Ecuador votes for break with past
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Quito

Rafael Correa
Rafael Correa is US-educated
The people of Ecuador have spoken and spoken loudly.

When all expected a close contest in the second and final round of presidential elections, what they got was a clear-cut victory for the left-wing economist, Rafael Correa.

He beat his right-wing rival, the country's richest man, Alvaro Noboa, with ease - even in the coastal regions where he was thought to be weak.

The people of Ecuador, it seems, want the radical change that 43-year-old Mr Correa is promising.

He is talking about a "citizens' revolution" to overturn what he calls the discredited political establishment - an establishment that has produced eight presidents in the past 10 years.

Three of them were thrown out of office by angry crowds, including the last elected leader, Lucio Gutierrez.

Strong views

Mr Correa, who served briefly as economy minister in the last government of interim president Alfredo Palacio, wants to ensure that a greater share of Ecuador's wealth goes to its many poor.

He wants better representation for women and the indigenous community.

Ecuadorean soldiers
Security was tight for the election
And he is keen to halt the emigration that has seen hundreds of thousands move to Europe and the US in search of a better life.

He also has very strong views on his country's relationship with the US.

He will not sign a free trade agreement with Washington and wants to close a US military base on Ecuadorean soil. He has also called President George W Bush "dimwitted".

But Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its official currency six years ago and it is difficult not to be friends with the US when the bank notes you handle every day bear the portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

That might be why Rafael Correa has been trying to put some distance between himself and his friend, the radical president of Venezuela and critic of the US, Hugo Chavez.

While his supporters were celebrating on the streets, Mr Correa went on national television to make a number of points.

However, the one he put most strongly was that he will be his own man.

He will not be influenced by Mr Chavez and he will seek to make friends with all the countries in the region, including the US.

Politically inexperienced

With a doctorate from a US university, this multi-lingual, guitar-playing economist has impressed many with his youthful energy and enthusiasm.

But he is politically inexperienced and leads a new political movement with no representation in Congress.

Alvaro Noboa
Alvaro Noboa is the Latin American country's wealthiest man
Voting is obligatory in Ecuador but many of the nine million voters cast their ballots without much enthusiasm.

One woman outside a polling station in Quito said: "The winner should do what he promises. We're in the mess we're in because of that - they promise a lot during the campaign. Then once in power they forget everything, everything.

"And every day the poverty gets worse and now we're not so optimistic because each time we've voted it's always the same. Now we're pessimistic and we don't know what to do."

Manuel, shining shoes in the Theatre Plaza in Quito's colonial centre said: "Firstly we want someone who does what they promise - someone super honest, a man of his word, someone we can respect as a president.

"With all the problems Ecuador has had over the years, I don't believe in anyone now."

Fear factor

Alvaro Noboa has three times tried to become president and three times failed.

But no-one can accuse him of not putting effort into his campaigns.

He criss-crossed the country, wielding a bible, handing out gifts of computers, wheelchairs and medicines. He pledged to create jobs, build houses and increase wages.

"Like Christ," he said, "all I want is to serve... so that the poor can have housing, health care, education, jobs."

He is the owner of more than 100 companies, has close friends in Washington and a strong base among the business community in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

He tried to convince voters that he would apply the business acumen that has brought him such vast wealth to the Ecuadorean economy.

He also tried to frighten voters by telling them that his rival would be a puppet of President Chavez.

However, it seems voters were more concerned that Mr Noboa might represent the kind of old-style Latin American politician they have tired of over the past few years.

The independent Washington-based think tank, the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, said in a report that "the fear factor has been a key strategy of the right in Latin American elections this year.

"But there is no reason to think that the outcome of this election would adversely affect Ecuador's economy, regardless of who wins."

Ecuador, with its oil and banana wealth, should be better off than it is. Years of corruption and mismanagement have left it politically and economically unstable.

The people of Ecuador are gambling on Mr Correa.

The old ways have failed them and they seem to be saying that now is the time to try a fresh approach.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The background to Ecuador's bitter Presidental election



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