Cries of “we already have a president, we have Rafael!” resounded around the cobblestoned streets of Ecuador’s whitewashed colonial capital on Sunday afternoon. The revellers were celebrating another electoral victory by the country’s leftist president, Rafael Correa.
Preliminary official results suggest that the incumbent secured about 57 per cent support in the first round against a fractured opposition. This will be the third time Mr Correa, a US-trained economist, dons the red, yellow and blue presidential sash.
“Nothing, nobody, can stop this revolution,” the president said from the balcony of the presidential palace in Quito, as he claimed victory. “Until victory forever; God bless you all.”
Since first coming to power in 2007 Mr Correa, who is a devoted Catholic inspired by liberation theology, has led a “citizen’s revolution” in the oil-rich Andean nation.
The apparently categorical margin could expand his power base in congress, allowing him to consolidate his socialist agenda in Ecuador along with his regional allies, ailing Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
“I am 74 and I’ve seen I don’t know how many presidents. But mashi [companion] Rafael is the only one who has given poor Ecuadoreans dignity,” says Teresa Poveda, an impoverished pensioner.
Mr Correa’s popularity has been fuelled by a rise in wages, a substantial decline in poverty and unemployment, as well as delivering on promises to enact a new constitution and close a US military base.
A surge in the price of Ecuador’s oil exports and revenues, has come alongside a widened tax base, heavy government spending on social programmes, education, health and infrastructure. “We change this country now, or never,” Mr Correa added.
Most of all, the president has brought political continuity and relative economic stability to one of Latin America’s most volatile countries.
A landslide victory would consolidate Mr Correa’s socialist agenda in Ecuador along with his regional allies, ailing Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
He has said this will be his final term, ending in 2017, however many remain sceptical. His critics paint him as a venomous leader with authoritarian streaks.
“Correa has managed to capture all of the powers under his wing, hence, he has shown his true colours – which are not very democratic,” explains Walter Spurrier, a political economist who runs a think-tank in Guayaquil.
An outspoken critic of the US, Mr Correa ran a campaign venting anger against local banks, blaming them for a financial crisis in 1999. This helped place him ahead of his main rivals, conservative Guillermo Lasso, a banker, and Lucio Gutiérrez, a former president who was ousted in a popular revolt in 2005.
In recent years, Mr Correa has increasingly faced opposition not only from conservatives but also from disenchanted indigenous groups and from those who argue his grip on power is weakening Ecuador’s institutions and, particularly, the media. Ironically to many, last year he offered asylum to, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, who is seen as a crusader for free speech.
Some also question his management of the economy. Even though diversification is part of Mr Correa’s economic plan, the smallest of the Opec nations still has high level of dependence on oil prices.
The president’s default on $3.2bn in foreign debt and the decision to renegotiate foreign oil company contracts alienated investors. Since then, to cover its financing needs, the Andean nation of over 14m people has relied mostly on loans from China in exchange for oil barrels.
“He is a leader that hangs a lot from the circumstances … such as high oil prices and a Chinese credit line,” says Mr Spurrier, the analyst, “let’s see what happens if there are stumbles.”