Ecuadoreans vote for new president, hoping for political stability

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Hardened by years of unfulfilled promises, Ecuadoreans voted Sunday for a new president and an end to political and economic instability that has undermined this Andean nation’s fledgling democracy.
Overshadowing the election was former President Abdala Bucaram, a fiery, charismatic populist forced from office in disgrace in February 1997 after six turbulent months in power. Since his ouster, the country has been run by interim President Fabian Alarcon.
Alarcon was appointed by Congress after legislators deposed Bucaram, known as “El Loco,” or “The Crazy One,” for “mental incapacity.”
The first official results from the election were not expected until today. Final official results were not anticipated for a week to 10 days.
Bucaram’s stand-in candidate, business magnate Alvaro Noboa, surged into second place in the pre-vote polls, and many Ecuadoreans worry that if Noboa wins, he will allow Bucaram to return to Ecuador from Panama.
Quito Mayor Jamil Mahuad, a 48-year-old centrist, remained ahead in the polls despite Noboa’s sudden rise. Mahuad has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and a reputation as an effective, honest leader — a strong selling point in a country with deep corruption. He has pledged to improve health services and education and combat rising crime.
Mahuad and Noboa led a field of six candidates seeking to replace Alarcon. But as no candidate was expected to win a majority of votes, a July 12 runoff was likely between the two top vote-getters. The winner takes office Aug. 10.