Correa claims victory in Ecuador’s constitutional referendum

September 29th, 2008 - 11:44 am ICT by IANS  

Quito, Sep 29 (DPA) A new constitution promoted by leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was approved by a large majority in a referendum Sunday, according to exit polls issued at the close of voting.Although no official results or turnout figures were immediately made public, a visibly moved Correa declared a “landslide” for the “yes” vote on a newly drafted constitution, which was his most important election promise.

A poll made by survey firm Cedatos found that 66.4 percent of respondents favoured the new text, while another survey firm, SP, put the “yes” vote at 70 percent.

A quick vote count carried out with a different methodology by the non-governmental organisation Participacion Ciudadana said 63.2 percent of the voters would favour the proposed new text.

The new constitution requires a majority of votes cast to pass.

“This change belongs to everyone,” Correa said.

He called on Ecuadorians to unite behind “the citizens’ revolution,” and stressed that the result is “a thrashing for those who thought they owned the country”.

Opposition leader Jaime Nebot, mayor of Guayaquil - the largest city in Ecuador and also its financial centre, noted that majorities are not always right, and he pointed out that the “yes” vote only garnered an estimated 47.3 percent of the votes in Guayaquil.

Ecuadorian Security Minister Gustavo Larrea called the referendum a “historic event” but noted that despite the new constitution, “there are full guarantees to express” any view in the Andean country.

If official results confirm its passage, the new text will strengthen presidential authority - including the chance for one re-election - and reduce private property rights, among other changes.

Ecuador would then follow the footsteps of Venezuela and Bolivia, who have sought more social justice through a larger state, greater control of the economy and an increase in handouts for the poor.

“I will be here as long as you need me,” Correa said of a likely re-election.

If approved, this would be Ecuador’s 20th constitution since becoming a republic in 1835.

More than nine million Ecuadorian voters were expected to cast ballots Sunday. No major incidents were reported, according to electoral authorities and international observers.

Official results were expected to be made public within a few hours after the close of voting stations.

If the new constitution is approved, it will entail early presidential and legislative elections. It would also establish free healthcare and education, and a more direct form of democracy, while it would give the president control over monetary policy - rather than the central bank, as was the case until now.

The dollar, which is Ecuador’s only official currency since 2000, is not mentioned in the proposed new text.

Correa had said the new constitution would end “the long night of neo-liberalism” and kick off a “civil revolution” in the direction of “21st century-socialism”.

Ahead of the referendum, the opposition charged that Correa wants to increase his powers and has blasted the draft constitution as a copy of the “dictatorship” of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that will scare off foreign investment and hamper broader economic success.

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