President Rafael Correa, center, arrives at a polling station in Quito,… (Jose Jacome / European Pressphoto…)
QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador's incumbent president, Rafael Correa, swept to an easy reelection victory Sunday, winning 58% of the vote according to a preliminary official sampling — an overwhelming margin that entitles him to a third term without having a runoff.
The 49-year-old leftist economist easily outdistanced his closest finishers, banker Guillermo Lasso with 24%, former President Lucio Gutierrez with 6%, and banana exporter Alvaro Noboa with 4%, according to a snap count released by the national electoral commission.
"This victory is for all Ecuadoreans, to our families, our friends, our neighbors, the entire nation," Correa told supporters Sunday afternoon at the presidential palace shortly after polls closed. "All for you, a people dignified and free."
The final, official vote tally is expected Monday. To avoid a runoff, Correa needed 50% of votes cast plus one, or at least 40% and a 10 percentage point margin over the second-place finisher. He will be sworn in for a third term after his current term ends in May.
Correa, who earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Illinois, has close ties and political sympathies with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But unlike Chavez, Correa so far has not tried to change the constitution to allow himself more time in power. His third term will be his last under current law.
Pro-Correa voters said they approve of his social programs, road building projects and stewardship of the economy that has resulted in a significant reduction in poverty.
Interviewed at a Quito polling place shortly after voting Sunday morning, Elizabeth Chicaiza, owner of an apparel shop, said she supported Correa because of the positive effect he has had on Ecuador since taking office in January 2007, a stark change from a presidential merry-go-round that saw eight chief executives hold office in the previous 11 years.
"In six years, the country has new highways, free healthcare and education, and you can't ask for much more," Chicaiza said. "There is still a lot to do, but we are on the right path."
Of less importance to voters apparently was Correa's offer of political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London. He is wanted by Swedish authorities on charges of sexual assault.
Correa has also come under fire from free speech advocates for his harsh treatment of opposition media, including a victorious $40-million libel lawsuit against El Universo newspaper of Guayaquil. (He pardoned the newspaper's owners and editors.) Ecuador has also witnessed a surge in drug-related crime in recent years, a result of stiffer law enforcement in its neighbor to the north, Colombia.
Special correspondents Jaramillo Viteri reported from Quito and Kraul from Mexico.