* Socialist leader popular with the poor
* Opposition is fragmented
QUITO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - 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.