Ecuadorian Presidential Election Down to Two Men
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Ecuador's presidential election is heading for a second round of voting. Yesterday's balloting reduced a field of 13 to two men: one a banana tycoon, the other, a left-wing supporter or Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.
As NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Quito, the outcome in Ecuador is being closely watched for signs of further consolidation on the left in Latin America.
JULIE MCCARTHY: Alvaro Noboa, who wrested control of his family's banana business to become one of Ecuador's wealthiest men, held a slight lead through the night. Running a close second was Rafael Correa, a former economy minister who challenged the political orthodoxy - advocating cheap credit for the poor and renegotiation of all foreign oil contracts.
Correa's anti-establishment campaign didn't mince words. He called the congress a sewer and vowed to overrun the old guard with a citizen revolution. His firebrand approach earned him admirers among Ecuadorians fed up with a discredited political system that had failed to curb the country's crushing poverty or end graft.
As voters qued up to cast their ballots, women in one line, men in another, the election had the air of a family outing. Father of three, Roble Omedo(ph), said he voted for Correa in a bid to clean up the government.
Mr. ROBLE OMEDO (Voting for Correa): (Speaking foreign language)
MCCARTHY: Corruption, he said, it's at all levels - from the policemen at the corner to the ministers at the top. And if Correa gives us the example of honesty we can start changing things: not only for me, but for them, he says, pointing to his children.
Just about everyone surveyed said jobs and alleviating poverty were their topmost concerns. Noboa led a populist campaign, promising housing and more foreign investment to revive the economy.
Last night, the billionaire businessman said his 110 enterprises already employ a million people directly or indirectly.
Mr. ALVARO NOBOA (Presidential Candidate): (Speaking foreign language)
MCCARTHY: I'm very proud of that. I am the economist, he said, a deliberate swipe at Correa who holds a PhD in economics which he earned at the University of Illinois, where advisors remember him as brilliant.
This is Noboa's third bid for the presidency, and he drew the battle lines clearly, describing himself as a middle-of-the-road democrat and Correa as a dangerous leftist.
Mr. NOBOA: (Speaking foreign language)
MCCARTHY: In 2006, communism won't be permitted in power, he said. Correa assailed the remark as a smear and challenged the banana magnate's record as one of Ecuador's biggest employers. An international labor campaign has targeted Noboa over the salaries and benefits paid his workers.
But more than Noboa's business management, it was Correa's political ideology that seemed to disturb many voters yesterday. Regina Dedote(ph) called Correa a radical in the mold of Hugo Chavez.
Ms. REGINA DEDOTE (Voter): I think he's following the speech of Chavez, in Venezuela - against the Yankees, against tolerization(ph), against free trade. I think the United States is our first, and principle trade associate. And we have to recognize that if we don't follow the river, we are going to drown in the river.
MCCARTHY: Correa vowed to change nothing about his campaign: not his opposition to a free trade pact with the U.S., or his opposition to the presence of American troops on an Ecuadorian airbase. And both sides look set for six more weeks of brutal campaigning before voters go back to the polls November 25th.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Quito.