Quito (Ecuador): President Rafael Correa declared victory in the first-round of Ecuador's presidential vote as he celebrated with thousands of supporters in the capital of the South American country.

"We are here to serve you," Correa told a crowd from the balcony of the presidential palace in Quito on Sunday. "Nothing for us, everything for you: the people who deserve the right to be free."

His announcement came shortly after polls closed in an election he had been widely expected to win. Exit polls gave him about 60 percent of the vote -- and a roughly 40-point lead over his nearest rival, banker Guillermo Lasso.

To avoid a second round, Correa needed to win either 50 percent of the valid vote or 40 percent with a 10 point lead over the nearest contender.

When casting his ballot in a Quito school earlier in the day, the 49-year-old urged Ecuador's 11.7 million registered voters to turn out in large numbers to "elect our future."

"In our hands is our destiny," said Correa, a US educated economist who has been in power since 2007 and is one of a wave of leftist leaders shaping recent Latin American politics.

Correa's presumed win comes as no surprise since pre-election polls showed him with a huge lead over Lasso.

At stake besides the presidency are the country's vice presidency and 137 seats in the unicameral Congress.

As citizens headed to the polls, international observers from UNASUR, a grouping of Latin American countries, reported the process was proceeding normally, although delays were noted at some voting stations.

"I voted for the president because the others only make passing promises and then do not fulfill them," said Mariano Chicaiza, a 68-year-old farmer in Cangahua, an isolated indigenous community in the mountains northeast of Quito.

Lasso, who had around 20 percent backing in the exit polls, voted in Guayaquil, he said, "with great faith that the Ecuadoran people will know to make a better decision."

About 30 per cent of Ecuador's 15 million people live below the poverty line, and Correa has won support with popular social programs.

A self-declared foe of neo-liberal economics, he has also taken on big business and media groups, imposing new contracts on oil companies and renegotiating the country's debt while touting his poverty reduction efforts.

After clashing with privately-owned media, which he accuses of backing a police revolt in 2010, Correa barred his ministers from talking with opposition newspapers.


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