Race to succeed Correa opens in Ecuador

Quito (AFP) - Campaigning opened Tuesday for Ecuador's February 19 general elections, which will decide who succeeds leftist President Rafael Correa after a decade in power.

Eight candidates are vying to replace Correa, a radical economist and one of the last of a generation of leftist leaders who dominated Latin American politics for more than a decade.

The race comes at a time when the region's politics have shifted firmly to the right amid an economic downturn.

Center-right leaders have replaced leftists in Argentina, Brazil and Peru in just over a year.

The opposition hopes to match that in Ecuador, where Correa has set a new record as the country's longest-serving leader.

The president took office in January 2007, ending 11 years of instability in which Ecuador saw seven heads of state ousted.

Correa, 53, has announced he will stand down when his third term ends, citing family reasons.

His socialist party Alianza PAIS (AP) is facing its first real threat in a decade after losing key cities in local elections in 2014, including the capital Quito.

But with the opposition divided, the AP candidate, Lenin Moreno, remains the favorite.

Opinion polls give him between 29 and 36 percent of the vote.

Moreno, 63, served as vice president from 2007 to 2013. A paraplegic, he uses a wheelchair and could become one of the world's few disabled leaders.

His top rivals are right-wing former banker Guillermo Lasso with 18 to 22 percent of voter support, according to polls; leftist ex-lawmaker Cynthia Viteri with 11 to 19 percent, and center-left retired general Paco Moncayo, a former Quito mayor, with seven to 15 percent.

To win in the first round, the top candidate must get at least 40 percent of the vote and finish at least 10 percentage points ahead of the runner-up. Otherwise, the race will go to a run-off on April 2.