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After re-election, Correa wants big legislative win

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Fresh from a landslide re-election victory, President Rafael Correa hoped Monday to match it with a sweeping legislative win needed to clear the way for deeper socialist changes in Ecuador.

"Nobody is going to stop this revolution. We are making history," Correa told a crowd from the balcony of the presidential palace on Sunday, after clinching a new four-year term.

"We are building our small homeland, and a larger one, too," he said, referring to Latin America.

With 67 percent of the ballots counted in the oil-exporting South American nation, Correa was ahead with nearly 57 percent of the vote, compared to banker Guillermo Lasso's 23.3 percent.

Lasso, who served as finance minister during an economic crisis in the 1990s, conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced.

"Decent people like you, my family and my co-workers recognized the victories of others, and this night, I want to recognize the victory of President Rafael Correa," Lasso said.

Now the attention is turning to legislative election results, with Correa aiming for an absolute majority in the National Assembly, which would give him free rein to regulate the media, redistribute land and make other controversial changes.

The election process for the 137 assembly seats up for grabs is complex, and it is unclear how long it will take before definitive results are in.

But Citizen Participation, a non-governmental organization authorized by the election authorities, projected that Correa's Alianza Pais would win 90 seats, or 66 percent, and Lasso's Creating Opportunities movement, 12 seats, or nine percent.

A leftist firebrand in the mold of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the 49-year-old Correa is one of a group of leftist leaders who have shaken up Latin America in recent years with populist and often defiantly anti-US policies.

Correa dedicated his victory to Chavez, who made a surprise return home from Cuba overnight after 70 days in Cuba convalescing from cancer surgery.

He wished the Venezuelan a speedy recovery, saying, "Venezuela, your beloved Latin America and we, your friends, all need you."

In power since 2007, Correa has taken on big business and media groups, imposed new contracts on oil companies and renegotiated the country's debt while touting his poverty reduction efforts.

His clashes with the media have drawn sharp criticism from international rights and press groups.

But Correa has vowed to forge ahead with a new communication law that would redistribute radio and television frequencies and tighten regulations.

"We are going to try to make this an honest press, because there is a corrupt press here that is in the hands of a few families who think they can say whatever they want because they have a printing press," he warned after his re-election.

Last year, Correa irritated Britain and the United States by granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange -- who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sexual assault allegations -- at Ecuador's embassy in London.

He broached the issue again Sunday by calling on Europe to quickly resolve the fate of Assange, who has been holed up at the embassy for eight months.

British Foreign Minister William Hague said London remains "remains fully committed to seeking a diplomatic solution" with Quito on securing Assange's extradition to Sweden.

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

Although soundly defeated, Lasso emerged from the elections as the most credible opposition candidate in a crowded field that included an ousted former president and the country's richest man.

"From zero, we've gone to being the second political force in Ecuador," Lasso said. "And now that we have more than a quarter of the population supporting us, I have no doubt we will become the country's first political force."

Correa, who cannot run for another term, acknowledged that the election had helped consolidate the opposition.

"We have to organize ourselves better because the forces that oppose this project are going to be organizing more to stop it," Correa told a rally of frenzied supporters.

"If we don't change Ecuador now, we never will."

About 30 percent of Ecuador's 15 million people live below the poverty line, and Correa's popular social programs have won him support across the geographically diverse nation, from the Galapagos islands to the sweltering Pacific coast, up the towering Andes and down to Amazon basin lowlands.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130218/after-re-election-correa-wants-big-legislative-win