Ecuador votes for president, Correa seen winning new term

Sat Feb 16, 2013 11:59pm EST
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* Heavy state spending makes incumbent popular among poor

* Fractured opposition fielding seven candidates

* Correa win would boost Latin American leftist bloc

By Brian Ellsworth

QUITO, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Ecuadoreans vote for president on Sunday in a ballot expected to hand incumbent Rafael Correa a new term to advance his socialist agenda of heavy government spending and expansion of state power that critics slam as creeping authoritarianism.

Generous state outlays to expand access to healthcare, pave decrepit roads and build new schools have given the combative economist a strong base among the South American nation's poor.

Victory for Correa would cheer the leftist ALBA bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations at a time when the group's indisputable leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is struggling to recover from cancer.

Polls show Correa leading his closest rival by more than 35 percentage points.

Critics say Correa he is a despot who tolerates no dissent and is intent on amassing power. But the opposition's inability to unite behind a single candidate - seven opposition candidates are running - has helped give Correa a comfortable lead.   Continued...