Voters were on the way yesterday to handing a third term to President Rafael Correa, an economist who has raised living standards for the lower classes and widened their social safety net while being widely criticised as intolerant of dissent.
Victory for Mr Correa would cheer the leftist ALBA bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations at a time when the group’s indisputable leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is struggling to recover from cancer. Polls showed Mr Correa leading his closest rival by more than 35 percentage points.
“The beauty of an electoral democracy is that citizens have their future in their hands. So it’s time to vote,” he said after voting in northern Quito soon after polls opened.
Critics say Mr Correa is a despot who tolerates no dissent and is intent on amassing power. But the opposition’s inability to unite behind a single candidate – seven opposition candidates are running – has helped give Correa a comfortable lead.
Former banker Guillermo Lasso is Correa’s nearest rival in the polls, but surveys show him with only between 9 and 15 per cent of the vote.
Mr Correa is the only Ecuadorean president in the past 20 years to complete a full term in office, and is admired for bringing political stability to a nation where leaders had been frequently toppled by violent street protests or military coups.
Local media and government officials said there had been no incidents during the first few hours of voting.
The Perfiles de Opinion polling firm recently showed Correa with 62 per cent support. To avoid a second round, he needs to win at least 50 per cent of the vote or 40 per cent with a lead of 10 percentage points over the runner-up.