By Sara Schaefer Munoz and Mercedes Alvaro
QUITO--Exit polls showed that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was re-elected with overwhelming support for a third term in Sunday's elections, an outcome that could result in more foreign oil and mining investment and, some worry, further curb media freedom in the small Andean country.
An exit poll from pollster Cedatos Gallup showed President Correa with 58.8% of the vote. That pollster interviewed 28,000 people and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The strong vote count and the wide margin over other candidates, if confirmed by official vote counts, will allow Mr. Correa to avoid a run-off vote.
A separate exit poll conducted by Opinion Publica and broadcast on state-owned media showed Mr. Correa with 61% of the vote.
Both polls show that the other candidates placed well behind.
"No one will stop our revolution ... We have never failed and we will never fail," a jubilant Mr. Correa told a screaming crowd from a balcony at the government palace in Quito.
The re-election of Mr. Correa, who took office in 2007, will put him in power for four more years. He is already the longest-serving leader in decades in this politically unstable country.
During his first two terms, Mr. Correa, 49 years old, expanded his power, changing electoral law and the constitution to allow for consecutive terms. The populist president has lashed out at media critical of his government through lawsuits and fines.
He is wildly popular among voters, due to his self-styled "citizen's revolution"--using high oil prices to nearly quadruple public spending on the poor and public works.
"He has done things for Ecuador that are really good," said Maria Eugenia Acuna, a 33-year-old waitress and mother of a 15-year-old, citing the construction of new roads and Mr. Correa's new teacher training programs.
"He's requiring professors to get new degrees ... before, anyone could teach. Good ones were teaching with the same ideas they had learned forty years ago," she said, on her way to vote for him.
Leonardo Venuti, 33, a systems engineer, agreed that Mr. Correa had done a lot with public investments and programs. But he said the president has become too "arrogant" and the country needs to develop the opposition. He cast his vote for candidate Norman Wray, a leftist law professor.
Mr. Correa often blasts "oligarchs" in speeches and has moved to consolidate power, much as leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has. But his economic policies are far less radical.
He has left most sectors of private business alone, for example. In his new term, he is expected to take steps to attract investment in mines and oil fields--drawing fire from the opposition and indigenous groups which say he is betraying promises of equality and environmental protection.
Seeking to keep oil revenue flowing to fund social spending, the government in November begun auctioning off 13 areas for oil exploration in the country's Amazon region, some to undisclosed foreign companies. The contracts will also provide for a 20-year development period.
Mr. Correa has promised all oil revenues will go to the government, but foreign firms will receive a fee.
The government has also beckoned investment in its mining industry. Last year it signed a contract with Chinese company Ecuacorriente for the investment of $1.4 billion in a large-scale copper-mine project in the south, called El Mirador.
Ecuador is also in negotiations with Canada's Kinross Gold Corp. (KCG, K.T) to sign a contract for the Fruta del Norte project, the largest gold deposit in the country.
The government has proposed an overhaul of current investment laws to make the country more competitive. Kinross and other mining companies have said they are awaiting such changes, especially to the steep 70% windfall-profit tax. Such changes are expected in Mr. Correa's third term, especially if his party wins an absolute majority in Congress.
In Sunday's vote, the new, 137-seat Congress was up for grabs. Mr. Correa's party would need to capture 69 seats to pass laws, and 92 seats to gain an absolute majority that can change the constitution.
Moves to further develop the oil and mining sectors are likely to face opposition from left-leaning lawmakers, many of whom say Mr. Correa has abandoned his socialist roots.
Mr. Correa "is very pragmatic" when it comes to ensuring continued government revenue, said Simon Pachano, a professor of politics at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito. "He has a leftist discourse, but it's more discourse than reality."
Indigenous populations--whose rights the Correa government has championed--have also begun to strike back against the proposed projects. In an effort to quell discontent, the government has said it will ask oil and mining companies to pay advance royalties to develop social projects for nearby communities.
The big win for Mr. Correa's party could also create more conflicts with the media, analysts say. Recent laws make it illegal for the media to report with political bias, which international media observers say muted election coverage by making it difficult to criticize the president and the many candidates for Congress.