Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday in presidential and parliamentary elections that are widely expected to keep incumbent President Rafael Correa and his left-leaning PAIS Alliance movement in power.
The latest opinion polls showed that Correa enjoys a comfortable lead with at least 50 percent of voters' support, and his main rivals include former banker Guillermo Lasso with 20.6 percent of support, followed by ex-president Lucio Gutierrez with a 5.8-percent support. Below are profiles of the three top contenders.
-- Having been in power since January 2007, President Correa is favored by more than 50 percent of the country's 11.6 million eligible voters, enjoying an advantage of at least 30 points over his closest rival. Re-election would extend his term in office to 2017 and brand his administration with a stability that has historically eluded Ecuador, known for having a rash of short-lived governments.
Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador's second largest city, on April 6, 1963, Correa is a U.S.-trained economist who speaks French, English and some Quechua, one of the country's most prevalent indigenous languages. He has championed his country's poor and working class, and successfully negotiated to reduce Ecuador's foreign debt burden by some 60 percent.
He has been criticized for stifling press freedom, though the charges came after he sued a newspaper for libel and won in court. He later waived his 40 million U.S. dollars in damages and pardoned the journalists sentenced to three years.
Correa was first elected president on Nov. 26, 2006, and took office Jan. 15, 2007 for a four-year term. But a new popularly approved constitution in 2008 called for new elections, and he was reelected again on April 26, 2009.
Leading one of South America's smallest nations, Correa gained worldwide fame in August 2012 for facing down the U.S. and the UK pressure and granting political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who believes he is being persecuted by those world powers for his whistleblowing website.
On the final day of campaigning Thursday, Correa told state-run Gama TV he was "overwhelmed" by the show of support and pledged to work to build a "more deserving and independent country, better than that hopeless country we received in 2007."
-- Trailing behind by a wide margin is former banker Guillermo Lasso, whose support rates vary from 20 percent to just over 6 percent. Lasso, 57, has run a savvy campaign as the candidate of the conservative Creating Opportunities Party (Creo), which promised a new proposal a day for each of the 45 days of the campaign season. His proposals include making it possible for Ecuadorians to sign contracts with two different employers without risking losing their social security benefits, offering green companies tax breaks and improving prison system.
-- Lucio Gutierrez, 55, candidate of the Patriotic Society Party (PSP), has a support rate ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent. As an ex-military man, he took part in a successful coup in 2000 and was elected president in 2002, but then driven out of office three years later. He was briefly jailed for insisting on his claim to the presidency even after another government was voted in. He has been struggling to return as head of state ever since. In 2009, he ran against Correa and lost, claiming election fraud despite the widely acknowledged transparency of the process.
In the fourth place is Correa's former cabinet member Alberto Acosta, and in the fifth place is banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, reportedly the nation's wealthiest man. Endi