- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

QUITO, Ecuador | Ecuadoreans on Sunday resoundingly approved a new constitution that would significantly expand leftist President Rafael Correa’s powers and allow him to run for two more consecutive terms, unofficial partial results showed.

Voters gave the measure 63 percent backing, according to a nationwide quick count by an independent citizens group.

“We’re making history! Onward!” a jubilant Mr. Correa proclaimed in his coastal hometown of Guayaquil after his crushing victory became clear. He and the close associates who helped him craft his own brand of “21st-century socialism” hugged each other and sang “Patria,” their party anthem.

Mr. Correa called on Ecuadoreans to “join our hearts and minds to achieve a brave, sovereign and dignified homeland - equitable, just and without misery.”

The quick count by Citizen Participation, representing 4 percent of the vote, had a margin of error of half a percentage point. It was announced after exit polls by two different firms put voter approval at 66 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

First official results were expected late Sunday.

Mr. Correa says the Andean nation’s 20th constitution will spur “rapid, profound change,” benefiting the hardworking, humble majority and helping him eradicate a political class that made Ecuador one of Latin America’s most corrupt countries.

While conceding that it’s far from radical compared with similar projects in Venezuela and Bolivia, critics say the new constitution gives Mr. Correa far too much control over the economy, as well as the judicial and legislative branches.

Mr. Correa, 45, roundly rejected such talk on Sunday, and called for national unity.

Sunday’s victory was the third nationwide electoral victory for Mr. Correa since he won office in November 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. He also won the referendum approving the rewriting of a new constitution.

The new charter will almost certainly lead to presidential, congressional and local elections early next year, and an overhaul of the judiciary in which Mr. Correa is expected to play a decisive role.

The Central Bank and other key institutions also would cede or lose autonomy to Mr. Correa, this chronically unstable nation’s sixth president in a decade.

That should help the U.S.- and European-trained economist, who presides over of South America’s fifth-largest oil producer, fashion what he has called a “new model society.”

The new constitution guarantees free education through university and social security benefits for stay-at-home mothers and workers in the informal sector. Such measures would supplement already popular Correa programs that provide low-interest micro-loans for small businesses, building-material giveaways for homes and free seeds for growing crops.

Businessman Vicente Pazmino, 53, voted “null” on Sunday because Mr. Correa “wants to be master of this country, and the clauses of this constitution will let him do what he wants.”

AP writers Gaby Molina, Jeanneth Valdivieso and Gonzalo Solano contributed to this report.

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