- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

QUITO, Ecuado (AP) — Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, claimed victory yesterday in elections for an assembly to write a new constitution as he seeks to institute a socialist economic program for his impoverished nation.

A quick count by a local citizens’ group indicated that Mr. Correa’s backers won 71 of the 130 seats in the assembly in Sunday’s election, which would allow them to control the content of the draft constitution. Complete official results, however, were expected to take at least 20 days.

The count by Participacion Ciudadana was conducted at 6,129 of the country’s 37,656 voting centers.

“We accept this triumph with great humility and total responsibility. We know we cannot fail,” said Mr. Correa, citing projections of the vote count without elaborating.

His push for a new charter follows in the footsteps of socialist leaders Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Opposition candidate Gilmar Gutierrez, brother of ousted President Lucio Gutierrez, said his party would wait for word from electoral officials. His party was trailing Mr. Correa’s with two of the 24 national seats decided, according to the early sampling.

“We’re going to wait for the official results of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal as we said we would,” Mr. Gutierrez told Ecuavisa television.

Mr. Correa’s opponents accuse him of seeking too much power as president, citing his support for a proposal to let presidents serve two consecutive four-year terms instead of the one allowed now.

Mr. Correa denies he plans to maintain power indefinitely, and tried on Sunday to ease concerns that he would concentrate power in the presidency to impose a leftist agenda.

He said his supporters would hold talks with any party interested in achieving a consensus on reforms.

“No one is seeking totalitarian projects, or even worse, foreign projects,” he said, referring to charges from political opponents that he is trying to emulate the leftist presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia.

Voting was peaceful in most of the country, but angry voters in a coastal village in the Esmeraldas province burned two ballot boxes, forcing suspension of voting there, officials said.

Mr. Correa, who took office in January, has said the assembly will pave the way for socialism, but he has not detailed his reforms.

The 44-year-old former economy minister said the assembly is necessary to eliminate the power of traditional political parties, whom he blames for the country’s problems.

The president is expected to call for dismissing the current Congress and replacing it with a parliamentary commission until a legislature is elected under a new charter.

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