Leftist Economist Wins Ecuador Election

The Associated Press
Monday, November 27, 2006; 2:46 AM

QUITO, Ecuador -- Rafael Correa, a leftist nationalist who is friendly with Venezuela's anti-U.S. president, trounced a Bible-toting banana tycoon in Ecuador's presidential runoff on Sunday, partial results indicated.

A victory by Correa, a U.S.-trained economist who has rattled Wall Street by threatening to reduce foreign debt payments and oppose free trade efforts, would strengthen South America's tilt to the left, with Ecuador joining like-minded governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and several other countries.

"We receive this very high honor that the Ecuadorean people have bestowed on us with profound serenity, with profound hope," Correa told a news conference.

His opponent, Alvaro Noboa, declined to concede defeat and demanded a recount, saying he was concerned about fraud.

With 31 percent of the ballots counted, Correa had nearly 67 percent compared to 33 percent for Noboa, Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal said before dawn Monday. The results were consistent with an unofficial quick count by the citizens election watchdog group and two exit polls.

The 43-year-old Correa, who is an outspoken admirer of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, secured a place in Sunday's runoff by pledging a "citizens' revolution" to radically reform the discredited political system. Ecuadoreans have driven the last three elected presidents from power and Correa appealed to voters as a fresh face in a field of established politicians.

In the first round, Correa called President Bush "dimwitted" and threatened to reduce payments on Ecuador's $16.1 billion foreign debt to free up money for social programs. He was favored to win the first round but came in second to Noboa in the field of 13.

Since he softened his radical rhetoric in the second round and began to make populist promises of his own, his support has been climbing.

Noboa, a 56-year-old billionaire who has touted his close relationships with the rich and powerful in the U.S., said he would not concede defeat until the official count is completed.

Noboa had run an old-fashioned populist campaign, crisscrossing Ecuador and handing out computers, medicine and money. Before voting earlier Sunday in the coastal city of Guayaquil, he read a passage from the Bible in the midst of a mob of supporters pushing to touch him.

He then fell to his knees, asking God for his support and saying all he wanted was "to serve, to serve, to serve" the poor.

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

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