Ecuador's presidential election campaign kicked off on Friday with rallies for all eight presidential candidates, with incumbent Rafael Correa enjoying a comfortable lead in polls ahead of the February 17 vote.
Although Correa has been dogged by a recent scandal involving his cousin, president of the country's central bank, and his decision to offer asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the issues have had little impact on his popularity among voters.
"Let's score another win for the citizen's revolution," Correa declared, in a speech launching his campaign before hundreds of supporters gathered at a market in Quito.
"If you can't give your support to an individual person, then you must support a project, a revolution," he shouted to a sea of supporters wearing green jerseys or waving flags.
The leftist leader of the ruling PAIS Alliance, in power since January 2007, is poised to win re-election, with an Opinion Profiles poll giving him 60.6 percent of the vote.
Some 11.5 million Ecuadorans are eligible to vote next month to choose a president, vice president, lawmakers and regional officials for new four-year terms.
In polls and opinion surveys, Correa is given credit by a majority of Ecuadorians for major improvements in transportation, education and health care. He has increased public spending by almost 300% since he took office, mostly using funds from oil and gas production.
Right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso is emerging as the main rival to Correa, who has been in power since 2007. But he trails far behind with 11 percent support, according to opinion surveys. Correa was first elected in 2006 to a two-year term but a new constitution, adopted in 2008, allowed him to run for two four-year terms.
Also contesting the top post are former president Lucio Gutierrez, who was overthrown in 2005 after two years in power, billionaire Alvaro Noboa, making his fifth run for the presidency, pastor Nelson Zavala and two former Correa allies, Alberto Acosta and Norman Wray.
The head of state, re-elected in 2009 in the first round of early elections called after a new constitution was passed, later set off for a major campaign party in the coastal town of Portoviejo.
Parliament has given Correa a 30-day break to campaign, while Vice President Lenin Moreno takes over his official duties.
Photo caption: Correa during an interview in Quito last week.