On election eve, Rafael Correa promises more of the same in his second full term; opponents call him an ‘oligarch’
On a campaign stage, Rafael Correa is a dancing, singing, swirling tornado of energy. Ecuador's president doesn't make promises. He's way past that.
With characteristic bravado, Correa instead reminds the enthusiastic crowd in a northern Quito suburb of the nearly 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) of highway he's improved, of the schools and hospitals built during his six years in office.
Loathed by some civil libertarians and free-market champions, but embraced by beneficiaries of state largesse, the leftist economist appears ready to coast to a second re-election on Sunday.
Correa, 48, has brought political stability to a traditionally unruly nation that cycled through seven presidents in a decade, from 1997-2007. If re-elected, this four-year term will be his last unless the constitution is changed.
Correa's "21st-century socialism" is a tamer variation of that practiced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Yet Correa has been just as intolerant of dissent as Chavez, keeping a tight lid on public discourse and the press.
Meanwhile, Correa has overseen Latin America's most generous public spending regime, keeping his support high by introducing low-interest mortgage for new homeowners, state-bankrolled study abroad and welfare payments that now reach nearly one in five Ecuadoreans.
The bulk of his backers are poor and lower-middle class Ecuadoreans who in 2010 represented 37 and 40 percent, respectively, of the country's population according to the World Bank.
Correa doesn't take those supporters for granted.
Every Saturday and a few nights a week, Correa pre-empts commercial TV and radio stations to spread his "citizen's revolution" and verbally skewer his "oligarch" enemies. It's the kind of prerogative of power wielded regularly by Chavez's government and Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez.
Opposition journalists, meanwhile, have been slapped with criminal libel charges for calling Correa a dictator. Indigenous leaders have been prosecuted for sabotage for protesting the government's refusal to consult with native peoples over water rights and its insistence on opening Ecuador to large-scale precious metals mining.
Correa's political platform talks of a further deepening of the "Citizens' Revolution" that he promised voters when he was first elected in 2006.
Although few doubt Correa's success, many question his methods. Alberto Acosta, a former Correa ally and a challenger from the left in tomorrow's election, says that the president has abused power and has become the oligarch that he claims he is fighting. Correa, however, says he must consolidate power to be effective.
Since coming to power, Mr Correa, a 49-year-old US-trained economist, has re-written the country's constitution, a move that allowed him to run for, and win, a new term in 2009.
He has also invested oil money into much-needed infrastructure and social programmes to redistribute wealth among the poor.
"I don't recognise the current Correa. He is a different person. He is not the friend I used to have, that I used to love like a brother," Mr Acosta said.
Poverty has fallen and social spending risen during the Correa administration
"He controls everything. He is a sort of Sun King of the 21st Century," he said referring to France's King Louis XIV.
Credit: Fox News, www.foxnews.com and BBC, www.bbc.co.uk. Photo caption: Rafael Correa on the campaign trail.