A former coup leader viewed as a crusader against corruption won Ecuador's presidential runoff today, defeating a billionaire businessman.
With 97 percent of the votes counted, Lucio Gutierrez, a former army colonel, had 54.3 percent, compared with 45.7 percent for Alvaro Noboa, who heads a banana and shipping empire that includes 110 companies.
Gutierrez, 45, led a 2000 coup that toppled a highly unpopular president, and campaigned as an anti-corruption crusader. The image appeared to hold strong appeal for voters fed up with leaders who plunder government coffers.
Noboa, 52, who counts among his friends several members of the Kennedy clan and Hollywood actors such as Charlton Heston, said his election would attract millions of dollars in foreign investment from his contacts in international financial circles, creating jobs for Ecuador's unemployed.
In a television interview tonight, Gutierrez sought to reassure Ecuadoran and international financial circles that his election was not a threat to investors.
"I want to give the greatest of assurances to the national productive sector, the national financial sector and the international financial sector," he said.
Before casting his vote in Quito, Gutierrez charged that Noboa, making use of his wealth, had bribed election officials in three provinces to ensure his victory.
Marco Zambrano, head of the election board in Manabi province, one of the provinces Gutierrez mentioned, immediately denied the accusation, and international election monitors said they had seen no signs of wrongdoing.
Gutierrez earned his reputation as a crusader against corruption when he led a group of disgruntled junior army officers and 5,000 Indian protesters in a coup in January 2000 that ousted President Jamil Mahuad during Ecuador's worst economic crisis in decades.
Gutierrez was expelled from the army for the rebellion and spent six months in a military prison.