Ecuador's Correa eyes easy re-election

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is favored to cruise to a new term Sunday to cement a "socialist revolution" that has brought stability to a nation where several leaders were forced out before him.

An outspoken voice of the Latin American left and friend of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the charismatic, US-educated economist is far ahead of his seven rivals in all opinion polls after six years in office.

"This is not one man's project, this is a citizen revolution. We must make it irreversible," Correa said during his final campaign rally in a blue-collar Quito district on Thursday as the crowd chanted: "We already have a president!"

In office since 2007, Correa has brought back stability to this rebellious Andean country of 15 million, which had seven presidents in 10 years.

Born into a modest family in the southwest port of Guayaquil, the 49-year-old leader has become a popular figure thanks to social programs funded by the country's oil proceeds.

"His victory appears more than assured. The only uncertainty is by how much," Marco Romero, a political scientist at Andina University, told AFP.

A self-declared foe of neo-liberal economics, Correa has taken on big business and media groups, imposing new contracts on oil companies and renegotiating the country's debt while touting his poverty reduction efforts.

After clashing with privately-owned media, which he accuses of backing a police revolt in 2010, Correa barred his ministers from talking with opposition newspapers.

And while he presents himself as a "defender of freedom of expression," Correa wants to enact a new media regulation law.

Last year, he irritated the United States by granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in London after the anti-privacy group released tens of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic reports.

Critics accuse Correa of scaring away foreign capital, pointing to his friendships with the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, though the Ecuadoran president has been more pragmatic than his leftist allies.

"His re-election can make him more active, but he doesn't have enough means to take on a regional leadership role," Romero said.

In order to win the first round outright, Correa needs a majority of votes or 40 percent with a 10-point advantage over his closest rival. Polls show he is heading towards a landslide victory.

Correa has nevertheless hit the campaign trail, criss-crossing the Andean nation to ask for a final four years in office.

He was re-elected in 2009 in early elections called for in the country's new constitution, which allows him to run only once more.

His ruling Country Alliance party will seek to keep its majority in Congress in Sunday's national election.

"By winning by a wide margin, he gains more legitimacy and the ability to undertake public policies that are controversial today," Santiago Basabe, an analyst at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, told AFP.

Correa's closest rival, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, has lashed out against the president's "authoritarianism."

At his last campaign event in Guayaquil, the country's second city and industrial center, Lasso said the campaign had been "unequal" but that "another Ecuador is coming."

Lasso, who was finance minister during an economic crisis in the 1990s, has struggled to woo voters, with polls showing that only 10 percent would vote for him.

The other candidates include former president Lucio Gutierrez, a retired army colonel who was ousted by Congress amid a popular revolt in 2005, and the country's richest man, Alvaro Noboa.

Unless he loses his majority in Congress, Correa will aim to carry out his final flagship project, a large-scale mining plan that has been rejected by indigenous communities.