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Ecuador Elects New President Sunday, Chavez Ally Leads Race


In Ecuador, the frontrunner in a field of 13 candidates for president is an outspoken outsider with close ties to leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

One of Ecuador's former presidents once described politics in his country as "cannibalistic," and with good reason. Massive street protests have forced three presidents from office in the past 10 years. On Sunday, Ecuador's nine-million registered voters will choose a new one. Voting is obligatory in Ecuador.

Opinion surveys show political newcomer, U.S.-educated Rafael Correa clearly leading the crowded field of candidates.

Professor Eduardo Gamarra of Florida International University has been watching the race. "There is a frontrunner, a frontrunner who is identified with President Chavez. He is a young candidate, a 43-year-old (with a) Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in economics, and somebody who has basically run a very populist campaign, with all the over- and undertones of anti-Americanism," he said.

Rafael Correa has called Ecuador's Congress a "sewer." He has broken ties with all political parties, and created a movement that has no congressional candidates. He has also attacked U.S. policies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, causing some to call him a radical. He counters that the only thing truly radical are the conditions in his country, where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Michael Shifter, vice president for Policy at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, explains Correa's appeal. "He is the anti-establishment, anti-politician candidate in a country where the political establishment has been very much discredited, and where there has been rejection of the political class, and there is a lot of frustration. I think, Correa, as a new face on the political scene, and a very energetic and articulate candidate, has taken advantage of that," he said.

Correa leads banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, former Vice President Leon Roldos and TV-journalist-turned congresswoman Cynthia Vitieri. Professor Gamarra says the race appears to be headed for a run-off in November. "The problem is that, in this contest, no candidate is likely to achieve the 40 percent required to become president. And, in that particular situation, then the best we can expect, and the real race is going to be for second place," he said.

Rafael Correa has vowed to win it all in the first round, but that has never happened since Ecuador implemented a runoff election system in 1979.