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Ecuador set to re-elect Correa

Ecuador's dashing president can bank on a big win, despite a dire economic prognosis for his country.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa speaks to the media during a news conference in the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, April 18, 2009. (Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters)

QUITO — In a room in a fashionable bar here in Ecuador's capital, a series of presidential portraits lines the walls. Under each picture, a brass plaque details how many years, months and days each of them governed. Most survived a year, some just a few months.

The last place has no portrait, but the plaque bears the name of Ecuador’s current president, Rafael Correa. Underneath, a clock counts his days in office, predicting he too will suffer a similar demise.

Ecuador has a history of short presidential terms: It has had eight presidents in less than 13 years. But Correa has a strong chance of breaking the mold. Polls show him comfortably ahead just before a general election — which will take place Sunday, April 26 — that should guarantee him another four years in power.

Regarded as the strongest leader to emerge in Ecuadorian politics in decades, Correa swept to power in 2007 claiming he would launch a "citizen's revolution." In two years, he has reached a level of electoral security unimaginable to previous incumbents.

His greatest achievement has come in rewriting the constitution, which has given more rights to the poor, women, indigenous communities, and which emphasizes environmental rights — as well as now allowing presidents to run for two consecutive four-year terms.

The approval of the constitution has allowed him to start again and run for president at a time when his popularity is riding high. Polls give him 50 percent of the vote in the race, acres ahead of his nearest rivals: former president Lucio Gutierrez, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2005 on accusations of corruption and nepotism, and Alvaro Noboa, a banana tycoon.

The question now is not so much whether he will win but by how much — and whether his popularity will allow him to secure a majority in the newly created National Assembly, analysts say.

Correa has gained popularity by spending billions on social projects that include a monthly $35 allowance for the country’s poorest, as well as free schoolbooks and uniforms and investment in health clinics.

"For the first time in this country it's not only the establishment that are candidates. It was only to Rafael Correa that it occurred to present to you citizens for you to nominate so that you could choose your own candidates," Luisa Maldonado, who is running as a councilor for Quito with Correa’s Alianza Pais party, told a group of indigenous peasants at a gathering in a barrio high above the capital. "Today, thanks to a democratic process, we can have candidates of the people, working together with you. People who know the reality and how difficult life is."

Maldonado told GlobalPost that Correa’s popularity stemmed from his instigation of a participatory democracy movement that was more inclusive, and which represented a departure from Ecuador’s traditionally nepotistic politics. “Before, when a councilor got into power the first question they would ask is ‘what job can I get for my son?’” she said.

But Correa’s detractors point to what they call signs of undemocratic tendencies. Correa has dismantled the unions and the indigenous movement that previously held influence, said Pablo Andrade, a political scientist at the Simon Bolivar Andean University in Quito.