Ecuador's Correa celebrates triumph in referendum

Other News Materials 30 September 2008 00:46 (UTC +04:00)

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa celebrated Monday the approval of a draft for a new constitution that he had advocated, dpa reported.

The leftist Correa commented to foreign media in Ecuador just hours after a referendum on the proposed new constitution on Sunday passed with 64 per cent of votes in favour, according to official results after roughly 80 per cent of the ballots had been counted.

The new constitution calls for early presidential and legislative elections. It also establishes free healthcare and education, and a more direct form of democracy. It gives the president control over monetary policy - rather than the central bank, as is currently the case.

For the first time, the constitution would provide for a one-time re-election of the president.

Correa stressed that the new text requires no nationalization of natural resources, because these already belong to the state, and noted that the provision of free healthcare and education established in the new constitution will be implemented based on "the availability of funds."

"There is great optimism and hope in the country," Correa noted.

He called for dialogue with the opposition, but in the face of recent upheaval in Bolivia - where President Evo Morales commands a majority for similar reform but where wealthy elites are fiercely resisting his moves - he warned that "it is always possible for separatist elites to long for a world of their own."

"I am an academic, I do not fear the discussion of ideas," he said.

Correa did not speak in concrete terms of the "citizens' revolution" and "21st-century socialism" he has advocated in the past, but stressed that South America is searching for social equality, sovereignty and social justice.

New presidential elections are to be held in February under the new constitution, but Correa was ambiguous about whether he would run for reelection.

"I will be wherever the homeland needs me," he noted.

If Correa wins a four-year term in February, it could open the theoretical prospect of his remaining in power until 2017. His first two years in power since 2006 would not be counted.

The constitutional draft was Correa's most important election promise in the 2006 election.

Ahead of the referendum, the opposition charged that Correa wanted to increase his powers and has blasted the draft constitution as a copy of the "dictatorship" of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that will scare off foreign investment and hamper broader economic success.