August 15, 2006

Uncertainty overshadows Ecuador presidential race

By Alonso Soto

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters)- Ecuador heads to a presidential
vote in October with no clear favorites, raising fears it could
fail to elect a leader with enough popular support to stave off
social protests and rebellious legislators.

Both leading candidates -- leftist academic Leon Roldos and
conservative Cynthia Viteri -- are far off winning enough votes
to win a majority in a restive Congress that has fired three
presidents in less than ten years.

Ecuador's Amazon region residents and Indians, buoyed by
rising international oil prices, are clamoring for more of the
country's energy wealth to be invested in their communities
while Wall Street worries about pressures to raise spending.

"A new political crisis is lurking," said Humberto
Cholango, a leader of the Indian movement that helped toppled a
president in 2000 after massive street protests.

"There are very important issues on the table such as the
use of oil revenues and free trade negotiations with the United
States ... more turmoil is on the way," said Cholango, who
supports another Indian leader for president who polls say has
little chances of winning.

Most of Ecuador's 9 million voters have grown disillusioned
with politics after years of widespread corruption and rulers
who have failed to reduce poverty.

President Alfredo Palacio came to power last year after his
predecessor was toppled and enjoys a popularity of only 12
percent. He has been criticized for caving into strikes and

Alexandra Vela, former vice-president of Congress and
researcher for Cordes, a political think tank in Quito, said a
new government could fall in only two years.

"This is the worst presidential campaign I have ever
seem... there are no real leaders in this election," Vela said.

Roldos has forged an alliance with a traditional party, the
Democratic Left, but analysts say that without a majority in
Congress his lack of charisma and political skills could put
him at odds with lawmakers.

His lead has shrunk to around 23 percent among potential
voters while conservative candidate Cynthia Viteri has climbed
to 16 percent, according to a July Cedatos-Gallup poll.

Viteri, candidate of the Social Christians, the country's
largest party, is also struggling to forge a strong political
block and has failed so far to step out of the shadows of her
party's historical leaders.

"There is not a single candidate that awakens enthusiasm
among voters," said Hugo Barber a pollster with Perfiles de
Opinion in Quito. "We are going to see a continuation of very
weak governments."