* Socialist leader popular with the poor
* Opposition is fragmented
QUITO Feb 24 Ecuador's next presidential
election will be held on Feb. 17 of next year, authorities
announced on Friday, with President Rafael Correa the favorite
to win re-election should he run.
The South American OPEC nation's vote had been set for
January 2013, but was put back a month to allow a full year to
elapse after the reform of election rules.
Correa says his family and party must decide if he seeks
re-election, but he has dropped hints he will.
Part of a leftist grouping in the region led by Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, Correa, 49, took power in 2007 vowing to
boost state revenue from Ecuador's natural resources and use the
money to help alleviate poverty.
His government defaulted on billions of dollars of foreign
debt in 2008, rewrote oil contracts with foreign companies and
is now negotiating with mining concerns to ensure the government
maximizes profit from exploration.
Heavy social and infrastructure spending has kept Correa
popular. He had a 55 percent approval rating in the most recent
opinion poll last month.
Ecuador's opposition political parties remain fragmented and
without a single figure seen capable of challenging Correa, a
U.S.-educated economist. He says his worst enemy is a hostile
local media with which he spars constantly.
Detractors say Correa is an authoritarian in the tradition
of Latin America's strongmen or "caudillos." Supporters,
especially among the poor, revere him.