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Ecuadorean 'assembly' may rewrite constitution

Ecuadoreans voted in a referendum Sunday to let leftist President Rafael Correa create a special assembly that could rewrite their constitution, according to an exit poll.

Leftist president wins referendum battle

Ecuadoreans voted in a referendum Sunday to let leftist President Rafael Correa create a special assembly that could rewrite their constitution, an exit poll suggests.

Critics fear President Rafael Correa, centre, could use the assembly to seek dictatorial power in Ecuador. ((Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press))

Correa won 78 per cent of the vote to set up the assemblyin a country long plagued by political instability and poverty, according to the Cedatos-Gallup exit poll of 40,000 voters nationwide.

Earlier in the capital of Quito, Correa told reporters he was hopeful of a result within hours after the polls closed.

"This is a civil act to celebrate, the most sacred right that citizens have is being honoured in democracy, the right to vote. My congratulations to the Electoral Supreme Court because in a short period of time and with great difficulty it has been able to conduct a great job," Correa said.

Congress has dismissed three presidents in the last decade, violating impeachment proceedings in the process.

But critics fear that Correa, 44,could wind up controlling the assembly and seeking dictatorial power.

They are worried by what they call his increasingly authoritarian style, similar to his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

A political newcomer with a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, Correa was elected in November and promised to clip the wings of Ecuador's political establishment.

Opponents 'corrupt'

Ecuador's eighth president in ten years, Correa has drawn big crowds with speeches thatcriticize his opponents and label them as corrupt.

The more Correa lashes out, thestronger his bond with Ecuador's poor majority seems to grow.

The oil-based economy is also running in his favour: It is relatively stable thanks to high crude prices and the adoption of the U.S. dollar as Ecuador's official currency in 2000.

However, most Ecuadoreans remain poor and are increasingly demanding more from the government.

Correa has not offered detailed proposals for the anti-corruption measures he envisions will result from a new constitution. But he has mentioned that a new charter should eliminate the authority of Congress, which is controlled by Ecuador's traditional parties, to name judges and other judicial and electoral authorities.

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