Ecuador: run-off vote likely

With 70.6 percent of the votes tallied, the 56-year-old Mr Noboa had 26.7 percent, against 22.5 percent for Mr Correa, a 43-year-old ally of Venezuela’s fiery President Hugo Chavez.

Election law in Ecuador requires a candidate to secure at least 40 percent of the ballot and have at least a 10-point lead over the runner-up to win the contest in the first round.

Moderate socialist Leon Roldos ran a distant third, with almost 16 percent of the vote, with ten other contenders each garnering small percentages of the overall vote.

If the current trend holds, the fate of the Ecuadoran presidency will be decided in a Noboa-Correa face-off on November 26.

Mr Correa had been leading in the early vote count when computer networks crashed on Sunday. He immediately accused his rival and authorities of fraud, after a resumption of the tallying found that he had fallen behind.

“We won,” he said, accusing his rival and federal election authorities of fraud. “The people are being cheated,” he charged.

Mr Noboa attributed his lead to his opponent’s friendship with Cuba and Hugo Chavez, who is a staunch ally of Havana.

“The people have just given the biggest lashing you can give to a friend of terrorism, a friend of Chavez, a friend of Cuba,” Mr Noboa said.

However, local political analyst Santiago Nieto attributed Mr Noboa’s apparent ability to turn the race around to specific proposals he was able to put forward during the election campaign.

“While Correa was making confrontational statements, Noboa, who is the richest man in Ecuador, was able to come up with specific ideas about creating jobs and solving problems in education and housing,” Mr Nieto said.

Rafael Bielsa, head of an Organisation of American States observer team, said earlier voting went normally throughout Ecuador and saw “no irregularity” in the polling.

Mr Bielsa, a former foreign minister from Argentina, was slammed as biased by Mr Correa, but Saturday he said charges of fraud were unproven.

After voting in Quito, Mr Correa warned that he would not tolerate irregularities.

“We will not let them steal the elections,” he said.

Billionaire Mr Noboa, an openly pro-US candidate, campaigned as a Bible-thumping populist and a rabid anti-communist.

During campaigning he sounded more like a revivalist preacher than a presidential candidate, asking voters to pray to Christ Jesus for the handicapped and handing out checks and wheelchairs.

At one rally Mr Noboa said “God has told me to be president.”

Mr Noboa, who has blasted Mr Correa as a “communist devil,” has promised 300,000 new homes to the poor and vowed “to turn six million unemployed Ecuadorans into middle-class citizens.”

Mr Correa promised to seek Ecuador’s membership in Mercosur, the South American free-trade area, and would not sign any trade deals with Washington.

A former economy minister, Mr Correa describes himself as a “Christian, humanist and leftist.”

“We have to overcome the fallacies of economic neo-liberalism and search for what in Latin America has been called 21st century socialism,” he told foreign media.

Ecuadorans also voted for members of Congress as well as provincial and municipal officials.