QUITO – President Rafael Correa, who is running for re-election in Ecuador’s general elections on Sunday, called on his countrymen to back his effort to create a “great fatherland” spanning Latin America.
“We (who) are privileged to have the popular vote will continue constructing the great fatherland that (Simon) Bolivar, Jose Marti and all our great men dreamed about,” Correa said after casting his ballot in Quito.
The presidency, governorships, national and regional legislative seats, and local offices up for grabs in the elections.
The Andean nation’s 44,000 polling places opened at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 5:00 p.m.
The voting, according to preliminary reports, is proceeding “normally” and Ecuador is having a “true democratic party,” Correa said.
“I think we Ecuadorians are the winners because if our democracy lives and we have the ability to decide our future, then that is a reason for joy in itself,” Correa said.
Some 10.5 million Ecuadorians are eligible to cast ballots in the election, including 180,000 emigrants living abroad.
In Spain alone, 110,000 emigrants registered to vote at Ecuador’s consulates.
The early general elections were mandated by the new constitution that voters in the Andean nation approved in a referendum last September.
Correa, a U.S.-trained economist who took office in January 2007, pushed for adoption of the new constitution.
The new constitution, which was drafted between November 2007 and July 2008 by a Constituent Assembly, is the 20th in Ecuador’s history.
The new charter, which opened the way for immediate presidential re-election, gives the president greater control over the oil industry and monetary policy, as well as the power to dissolve Congress once in a four-year term.
It also gives the state the right to expropriate idle land and to declare some of Ecuador’s foreign debt illegitimate, among other measures.
Correa contends that the new constitution allows the country to craft “long-term” policies for the benefit of the nation’s poor.
Critics, however, claim the charter invests too much power in the executive branch and undermines the system of checks and balances.
Eight candidates are running for president, but polls ahead of the election showed Correa winning.
Banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, citing the results of some polls, told reporters before voting in Guayaquil that he expected to come in first on Sunday and go to a runoff with Correa.
“I’m going to a runoff with Correa,” Noboa said in brief comments.
Martha Roldos, presidential candidate of the Ethical and Democratic Network party, urged her countrymen to be “cautious” in voting to avoid fraud.
The latest survey by polling firm Market came out Saturday and showed Correa garnering 51.7 percent of the valid votes, with former President Lucio Gutierrez in second place, drawing 27.3 percent support.
The Market poll, which was conducted Friday and Saturday, showed Noboa in third place with 13 percent support.
The poll results were released outside Ecuador due to election laws.
If none of the candidates wins the election outright on Sunday, a runoff would be held on June 14 between the top two finishers.
Under Ecuadorian election law, a candidate must either win 50 percent plus one vote or 40 percent of the vote, with a 10 percentage-point margin over the No. 2 candidate, to win the presidency.
Voters are also electing 124 members of Congress, 23 provincial governors, 221 mayors and 1,581 municipal council members.