Ecuador's Correa plans court revamp after vote boost
President Rafael Correa vowed a shake-up of Ecuador's courts after a referendum strengthened his grip on the South American OPEC member nation while heightening foes' fears of autocratic rule.
Votes being counted into Sunday showed the leftist leader ahead on all 10 reforms he put to Ecuadoreans in a referendum that is an early indicator of Correa's prospects in a possible 2013 re-election bid in the Andean country.
With 30 percent of ballots counted, the 'Yes' votes range for the questions was 44-50 percent compared with 40-44 for 'No' -- a narrower margin than most had forecast but possibly reflecting opposition strength in urban areas counted first.
Long before complete results, Correa declared victory, opposition leaders accepted defeat and government supporters began celebrating a few hours after voting ended on Saturday.
"We've won - thank God and the people!" said Correa, 48.
"We have to make big changes in the next 18 months. We're going to face the opposition of mafias within the judiciary," added Correa, whose declared intention with the referendum was to eradicate corruption and inefficiency in courts.
In office since 2007, Correa should now be empowered to name one of three members of a panel charged with reforming the judiciary and appointing judges to the Supreme Court and lower courts. Allies will effectively choose the other two members.
Other reforms should allow the government to limit media ownership and hold journalists "responsible" for stories -- moves critics say threaten freedom of expression.
Victory should also help Correa to rein in dissent in the ruling Alianza Pais movement and better control parliament.
"Correa's victory makes it difficult to talk in any serious way about the separation of powers in Ecuador," said a U.S. analyst of the region, Michael Shifter.
Having won two presidential elections, Correa is widely expected to try again, although he has said he may prefer to retire with his wife to her homeland in Belgium.
"It's a little too soon to say it's a done deal but I have talked to our sources in Quito and they said they thought this was going to be the beginning of the 2013 campaign," said Eurasia Group consultancy analyst Risa Grais-Targow.