Banana magnate takes lead in Ecuador poll

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Ecuador’s richest man and a leftwing nationalist allied to Hugo Chávez, the firebrand president of Venezuela, will face each other in a presidential run-off election next month, according to partial results from Sunday’s general elections.

Alvaro Noboa, a banana magnate with a personal fortune estimated at $1.2bn, appeared to have a slight lead over Rafael Correa, a former finance minister whose rhetoric has worried Washington and foreign investors.

With 43 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Noboa has 27 per cent of the vote, ahead of Mr Correa with 22.4 per cent. León Roldós, a centre-left former vice-president, was placed third with 15.7 per cent.

Mr Noboa’s lead was a surprise, given that Mr Correa had been the clear frontrunner in opinion polls in recent weeks and was expected to win a comfortable lead in Sunday’s poll.

International investors will likely to react very positively to the result. Ecuador’s bonds had suffered in recent weeks as Mr Correa rose in the polls, but recovered somewhat on Wall Street this week as investors calculated that the radical leftist was unlikely to win outright victory in the first round.

The run-off will present voters with two sharply contrasting views of Ecuador’s future, and could lead to polarisation in a country that is among the most fractured in South America, riven by economic, social, ethnic and geographical divisions.

Mr Correa has promised to shut down the US military’s base in Ecuador and has vowed never to restart talks with Washington on a bilateral trade treaty. He has also hinted that he might default on Ecuador’s debt payments and has pledged to impose higher taxes on foreign investors in the oil industry such as Repsol of Spain, Brazil’s Petrobras, Andes Petroleum of China and Perenco of France.

Mr Noboa, by contrast, is virulently anti-Chávez, and has pledged to cut political ties with Venezuela and Cuba if elected. He has also promised to improve relations with the US and respect all contracts signed with foreign investors.

For Mr Noboa, a free-market businessman who controls some 110 companies in Ecuador and internationally, this is the third electoral campaign in which he has qualified for the second round run-off.

In a sign of the confrontation likely to come, Mr Correa claimed as the exit poll was broadcast that his party’s private polling suggested that he was heading for an outright victory in the first round, with more than 40 per cent of the vote, and said “a great fraud” may have been perpetrated against him.

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