A leftist economist who is friendly with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held a commanding lead over a banana tycoon in Sunday's runoff presidential election, according to an unofficial quick count of votes.
A victory by Rafael Correa would strengthen South America's tilt to the left, with Ecuador joining like-minded governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and several other countries. But right-wing opponent Alvaro Noboa refused to concede, saying he would wait for the official count to be completed.
Election officials said late Sunday that they expected no significant official returns until this morning. A winner was not expected to be known until later today or Tuesday.
The quick count, conducted by a citizens' election watchdog group, gave Correa nearly 57 percent of the vote, compared with 43 percent for Noboa. It was based on sample votes from more than 1,600 voting stations and had a margin of error of less than 1 percentage point, the group said.
Correa sounded confident of his victory at a news conference after the count was announced. "We receive this very high honor that the Ecuadoran people have bestowed on us with profound serenity, with profound hope," he said.
Two exit polls also gave Correa a wide lead over his opponent.
Correa, 43, secured a place in the runoff by pledging a "citizens' revolution" to radically reform the discredited political system. Ecuadorans have driven the last three elected presidents from power.
In the first round, Correa called President Bush "dimwitted" and rattled investors by threatening to reduce payments on Ecuador's $16.1-billion foreign debt to free up money for social programs. He was favored to win the first round but came in second to Noboa in the field of 13.
After he softened his radical rhetoric in the second round and made populist promises, his support climbed.
Noboa, 56, a billionaire who has touted his close relationships with the rich and powerful in the United States, ran an old-fashioned populist campaign, crisscrossing Ecuador and handing out computers, medicine and money.
Before voting Sunday, he read a passage from the Bible in the midst of a mob of supporters pushing to touch him. He then fell to his knees, asking God for support.