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Ecuador votes to lock in its shift to the left

Ecuadoreans easily approved a new socialist-leaning charter Sunday.

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However, Correa often makes it a point to distinguish himself from Chávez and says his own "Citizens' Revolution" responds to the demands of his countrymen, not Venezuela's regional agenda.

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The passage of Ecuador's socialist Constitution "is helpful to Chávez's regional project but it is not caused by it," says Ted Piccone, deputy director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Both Chávez and Correa are responding to long pent-up demands for change in their own countries."

Correa: a leftist, but no Chávez

Correa has marked differences with Chávez, especially on foreign policy.

Notably, he has kept Ecuador out of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Venezuela's answer to a US-promoted regional free-trade agreement known as FTAA, and refused to follow Venezuela's lead in reestablishing relations with Colombia after a brief diplomatic crisis among the three countries in March.

His dealings with the United States are less confrontational as well.

Correa has announced since he was elected in 2006 that he would not renew the US's lease on a key Air Force base in Manta, Ecuador.

The new Constitution expressly prohibits any foreign military bases on Ecuadorean soil.

But Correa has not sought to directly antagonize Washington, unlike Chávez.

"Correa is Chávez's ally yes, lackey no," says Mr. Piccone.

Ecuador's approval of the Constitution was watched closely from neighboring Bolivia, whose own efforts to establish a socialist charter so far have been thwarted by staunch opposition and by bouts of unrest.

The text there was passed despite an opposition walkout, and a referendum is tentatively scheduled for February.

Elections in February

Also in February, Ecuador will hold new general elections, to vote for president, members of the unicameral legislature, governors, and mayors under the new Constitution.

There is little doubt that Correa will be reelected to a four-year term, which he could repeat once, giving him the potential to be in power for a full decade.

For a country that has seen eight presidents inaugurated in the past 10 years, that possibility of political stability was tempting for voters, analysts say.

Ms. Calderón says that Ecuador's opposition fears that – with this weekend's resounding victory in the constitutional referendum and Correa's near-certain reelection in February – he may become more radical in his move toward "21st-century socialism" than Chávez, who in his nearly 10 years in power has nationalized companies in the telecommunications, cement, and banking sectors.

Correa on Monday specifically ruled out nationalizing oil companies but said he will "not allow" them to reduce investment levels.

Ecuador's economy depends heavily on exports of oil, with a daily production of about 500,000 barrels.