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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Current, former presidents at odds in Ecuador referendum

A woman casts her vote during a constitutional referendum called by President Lenin Moreno in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. (Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press)
By Gonzalo Solano Associated Press

QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuadoreans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to limit presidents to two terms in a nationwide referendum that proved a blow to former President Rafael Correa.

Quick count results showed voters approved by an almost 2-to-1 margin a measure reinstating the term limits that Correa eliminated from the constitution in 2015.

The result, which had been expected, was seen as a big boost for President Lenin Moreno, who was a protege of Correa until taking office last year. They have been feuding bitterly almost ever since over Moreno’s decision to build bridges with business leaders and others who were bullied by Correa, a leftist firebrand.

“The days of confrontation are behind us,” a triumphant Moreno said in televised remarks with his Cabinet at the presidential palace. “It’s time to embrace each other.”

Correa tried to put a positive spin on the results, saying the 36 percent of voters opposing term limits show that his political movement remains the most-dominant in the country. To prevail, Moreno relied heavily on support from conservative opposition parties.

Six other government-backed proposals on the ballot, some of them seeking to reduce Correa’s influence, also easily passed.

One would give Moreno more authority over a council that determines who can lead some of the nation’s most important institutions. Another would bar officials convicted of corruption from seeking office – a clause that apparently would apply to Vice President Jorge Glas, another Correa ally who was recently convicted of corruption.

Another would strengthen restrictions on mining by banning it entirely in protected areas, indigenous territory and cities.

The referendum bucks a trend in several Latin American nations, where leaders have pushed for constitutional amendments that would let them stay in power longer, sometimes indefinitely.

In Bolivia, a court recently paved the way for left-leaning President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term despite a voter referendum that rejected it. Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, is running for office in an election that opposition leaders consider illegitimate. And in Honduras, conservative President Juan Orlando Hernandez was recently sworn in for a second term after the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional ban on re-election violated his rights.

Correa governed Ecuador from 2007 to 2017, winning the loyalty of millions of poor Ecuadoreans with generous health and social programs and lauded for brining stability.

But the combative leader feuded with the business community, the news media, environmentalists and indigenous groups, pushing through measures that consolidated executive power and expanded mineral exploration in indigenous territories.

After leaving office, he moved to his wife’s native Belgium, but recently returned to rally against Moreno, who he now calls a “traitor.”

Moreno, a paraplegic since being shot in 1998, is enjoying a near 70 percent approval rating.