QUITO, Oct 1 (Reuters) Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's party has won a strong majority in election for an assembly to rewrite the constitution and dissolve Congress, according to the government and an exit poll.
A strong mandate in the assembly would allow left-winger Correa to shore up his legislative control, tighten state control of the central bank and push economic and debt proposals that have already worried Wall Street investors.
Attacking the old guard as a mafia, Correa wants the assembly to introduce sweeping reforms, but foes fear he seeks to amass power and follow ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by turning his Andean country into a socialist state.
''The opposition clearly knows the decision of the Ecuadorean people ... and should accept it,'' Vice President Lenin Moreno told local media yesterday. ''Clearly there will be an ideological line and that is what the government proposed.'' Correa, a popular former economy minister who swept into office in January, seeks to purge the influence of traditional political parties, which are widely blamed for the chronic instability that has ousted three presidents in a decade.
Official results have yet to be released but a 66-seat majority would allow Correa to control the assembly. Minister of Coastal Affairs Ricardo Patino, a close Correa aide, told Reuters the government party could win more than 70 seats and three other ministers confirmed it.
Correa's party was ahead with 14 to 15 delegates out of 24 national seats, a government-aligned exit poll said. Results for the 100 delegates chosen provincially and six by overseas immigrants were not released by pollster SP Investigaciones.
The assembly will debate a draft of constitutional reforms put together by academics. A final version must be approved in a popular referendum after at least six months.
FRAGMENTED OPPOSITION A fragmented opposition has vowed to stop Correa from using the assembly to consolidate presidential powers and tighten his grip on key state institutions like Chavez did soon after he was elected in 1998.
''Correa is like a demagogue, his policies are taking us toward communism and that is exactly what we don't need,'' said oil industry student Marcelo Espin, who voted for centrist assembly candidates in Quito.
Even without his party winning an outright majority, Correa still could form alliances with smaller, sympathetic left-wing parties to allow him to control the assembly.
But his key rivals include the brother of former President Lucio Gutierrez, who is popular among the poor despite being ousted during protests in 2005, and Alvaro Noboa, banana magnate and one of the country's richest men, who Correa defeated in last year's election.
Correa dismisses claims he wants to consolidate power. But some ministers and candidates have given mixed signals on reforms they want. The president says he wants to develop a 21st century socialism -- as does Chavez -- but officials say they have no plans for a nationalization program.
A US-educated former college professor, Correa stepped into the political spotlight more than a year ago when he captured attention with a vow to challenge old elites.
The vast array of more than 3,000 assembly candidates and a complex seat assignment confused voters and official results could take days to tally.
Correa's drive was marred by clashes with Congress as opposition lawmakers sought to preserve their influence. A court fired 57 lawmakers for blocking the assembly plan and Congress was briefly suspended after they fought with police.
Reuters MP VP0540