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Ecuadorean presidential hopeful in uphill battle against radical front-runner

Ecuadorean presidential hopeful in uphill battle against radical front-runner

A barefoot Shuar Indian woman chants a native welcome as presidential candidate Leon Roldos disembarks his plane on a jungle airstrip, and a Shuar man places a "pahuaspa" crown of feathers atop his head.
Roldos, who until recently was the front-runner in Ecuador's Oct. 15 presidential election, motions for another Indian to hand him a four-foot (1.2-meter) gray-and-white boa constrictor, which he raises triumphantly above his head as he stands on a wooden dais.
The center-left former vice president is fighting an uphill battle to recover support in poor communities like this jungle town, after being overtaken in the polls by a political outsider who espouses a more radical leftist message.
Roldos, 64, is polling about seven points behind Rafael Correa, a U.S.-trained economist and friend of Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez. Correa, who recently called U.S. President George W. Bush "dimwitted," has taken the lead among a field of 13 candidates with about 27 percent backing.
Pollsters expect the race to go to a November runoff between the two top vote-getters.
The soft-spoken Roldos, who is running as the standard bearer of a coalition of established political parties, acknowledges that he woke up late to the fact that he didn't have a lock on the country's leftist vote.
Speaking to The Associated Press during the 240-kilometer (150-mile) plane ride from Macas back to the capital of Quito, Roldos said he "miscalculated" the initial strength of his candidacy.
"I decided _ I think it was an error _ not to wage a publicity campaign or do fundraising," Roldos said. "My mistake was to believe that our presence represented that ethical space, and it continues to represent it, and so no marketing was necessary."
In a country plagued by corruption, Roldos' strongest selling point is a reputation for honesty.
But some political analysts doubt that will be enough for the gray-haired Roldos _ whose dry speech is accented by a lisp he has had since childhood _ to match the charisma of the tall, handsome, blue-eyed Correa.
Correa, 43, was a political unknown in April 2005, when he was appointed economy minister. He was forced to resign after only four months when he failed to consult outgoing President Alfredo Palacio before publicly lambasting the World Bank for denying Ecuador a US$100 million (euro80 million) loan.
But he has surged recently in the polls, wowing crowds of poor, disenfranchised Ecuadoreans with anti-U.S. rhetoric and promises to clean up corruption.
In a recent campaign appearance, Correa addressed highland Indians in their native Quichua, reminding them he lived among them two decades ago as a volunteer development worker. Brandishing a belt, he pledged to "give the lash" to the political class.
Roldos, by contrast, "has a boring speaking style, very slow delivery, a boring campaign," said Jaime Duran, an Ecuadorean public opinion analyst who worked on the campaign of Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon. "Correa's is an attractive, attention-getting campaign."
Roldos said he started consulting last week with a Cuban political adviser, seeking to spice things up.
This is his third presidential bid after failed attempts in 1992 and 2002, and the first time he has run without the counsel of his late wife, Mercedes Icaza, or "Mechita," who died last year of cancer.
"I always joked that Mechita was the politician and I was the candidate," he said.
A former president of the University of Guayaquil, Roldos heads a coalition that includes the moderate Democratic Left party, one of Ecuador's largest political groups.
He was appointed vice president in 1981 in a crisis of succession after his brother, Jaime Roldos, a popular president, was killed in a plane crash.
He has never quite emerged from his brother's shadow.
"The people of my community of 100 families are thinking of voting for him because we knew his brother," said Reinaldo Sharup, a member of the Shuar tribe in Ecuador's eastern Amazon region. "He will be a good president."
Roldos said he doesn't mind being compared to his brother, though he sees differences between the two.
"Jaime was a likable, charismatic man," Roldos told the AP. "What I am is a good public administrator."


Updated : 2021-07-29 10:48 GMT+08:00