Paraguay Picks a New President: What You Need to Know

Published: April 30, 2023

Paraguay, the landlocked nation of seven million individuals within the heart of South America, picks a brand new president on Sunday. The vote will take a look at the power of Latin America’s leftward shift lately.

Opposition challengers have gained the final 16 freely held presidential elections in Latin America, and 6 of the area’s seven largest international locations have elected leftist leaders since 2018.

Now will probably be seen whether or not that pattern can maintain with Paraguay, maybe South America’s most staunchly conservative nation, because it grapples with deep poverty, a sputtering economic system and deeply rooted corruption.

The conservative Colorado Party is looking for to retain its grip on the nation, which it has managed for all however 5 of the previous 76 years, together with 4 a long time of army dictatorship.

But that dominance now seems in jeopardy. The Colorado incumbent, President Mario Abdo Benítez, can’t run once more due to time period limits — and surveys present he’s considered one of Latin America’s most unpopular leaders due to his dealing with of the pandemic. Representing the Colorado Party on the polls shall be Paraguay’s former finance minister.

In January, the U.S. authorities positioned monetary sanctions on the Colorado Party’s chief, the previous president Horacio Cartes, accusing him of bribing his solution to energy. The sanctions have sophisticated the celebration’s financing.

Some latest polls have proven that the main opposition candidate — a conservative who remains to be to the left of the Colorado Party’s contender — holds a slim lead.

The election, which additionally covers congressional, regional and native seats, has featured debate over diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan, guarantees of a jail constructed particularly for corrupt politicians and late momentum for a far-right candidate who has pledged to dissolve Congress and enact army rule.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, with outcomes anticipated inside hours of polls closing. Candidates want a easy majority to be elected.

Here’s what it’s worthwhile to know.

The Colorado candidate, Santiago Peña, 44, is Paraguay’s former finance minister, a former International Monetary Fund economist in Washington and the protégé of Mr. Cartes, the sanctioned ex-president.

While the Colorado Party has typically constructed its help on socially conservative insurance policies, Mr. Peña has pitched himself because the celebration’s new technology, yet one more centered on the economic system. He has promised to create 500,000 jobs, provide free kindergarten, lower gasoline and vitality costs, and get extra cops on the road.

In an interview, he has stated he would pay for these guarantees by increasing the economic system, and thus tax income, by eliminating pink tape.

The main opposition candidate, Efraín Alegre, 60, is a conservative lawyer and former congressman who leads a broad coalition of dozens of political events, from the far left to the spiritual proper, which have joined collectively to oust the Colorados. Sunday is his third attempt for the nation’s highest workplace. In 2018, he got here inside simply 96,000 votes — or 4 p.c of the entire — from the presidency.

The son of a bus driver and a preacher from rural Paraguay, Mr. Alegre has sought to current himself as an Everyman, promising to eschew the presidential residence if elected.

He has constructed his marketing campaign on a pledge to root out the “mafia” that he stated managed Paraguay. He additionally has promised to banish corrupt politicians to a brand new jail in an arid, distant area within the north and to pay without cost treatment by recouping what he stated was $2 billion embezzled by the Colorados every year.

“It’s not only about bringing change, it’s about recovering what was stolen and returning it to the people,” he stated in an interview on Friday.

While Mr. Peña and Mr. Alegre have led the polls, Paraguayo Cubas, 61, an eccentric anti-corruption firebrand, has gained momentum in latest surveys.

Mr. Cubas is a far-right former senator who was expelled from Congress after bodily grappling with different lawmakers and kicking a police automotive. He had beforehand attracted headlines for whipping a decide together with his belt after which defecating within the decide’s workplace. He has run his marketing campaign primarily on social media, branding Congress as a “cave of bandits” and suggesting he would rule as a dictator.

Analysts are skeptical that Mr. Cubas has a path to the presidency. Instead, they stated, he may take votes from Mr. Alegre and hand the Colorado Party victory.

Mr. Cartes, 66, left the presidency in 2018 however remains to be maybe Paraguay’s strongest man. In addition to operating the Colorado Party, he has monetary pursuits in cigarette factories, banks, pharmacies, TV channels, newspapers and a soccer membership.

In January, the U.S. Treasury Department barred him and his corporations from the U.S. monetary system, claiming he had ties to the Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah and had doled out thousands and thousands of {dollars} to cement his management over authorities. Mr. Cartes has denied the allegations.

The monetary sanctions made it harder for the Colorado Party to lift cash and posed a political dilemma for Mr. Peña.

In an interview, Mr. Peña stated the allegations have been Mr. Cartes’s “personal responsibility” and never reflective of the celebration or him. “I’m my own person,” he stated. The two males nonetheless appeared onstage collectively this week.

Mr. Alegre has seized on the allegations in opposition to Mr. Cartes, calling him the “Paraguayan Pablo Escobar.”

Crime: Paraguay, which has lengthy been a haven for drug traffickers, has been shaken by a string of high-profile murders. In one case, a federal prosecutor investigating drug cartels was shot useless by jet-ski-riding assassins whereas on his honeymoon, subsequent to his pregnant spouse on a Colombian seaside.

The economic system: Paraguay was one of many Latin American nations most devastated by the pandemic, and its economic system shrank final 12 months. 1 / 4 of the inhabitants lives in poverty, many roads are nonetheless unpaved, and hospitals are brief on primary medicines. Tax charges are among the many lowest within the area.

Taiwan: Paraguay is a part of a fast-shrinking membership of 13 international locations, largely small island nations, that preserve relations with Taiwan moderately than China. The Paraguay-Taiwan friendship — inked by their dictators in 1957 — stays robust. Taiwan paid for Paraguay’s modernist congressional constructing and offered its presidential jet. But Paraguay’s farmers face obstacles in exporting soybeans and beef to China consequently. Mr. Alegre has stated he’ll re-examine the connection, which might upset U.S. officers. Mr. Peña has pledged to maintain the established order.

The dam: Whoever dons the presidential sash on Aug. 15 may also must deal with a pivotal negotiation over Itaipú, a colossal hydroelectric dam shared with Brazil. Per a 1973 treaty, Paraguay sells its spare vitality from the dam to Brazil at rock-bottom costs. But the treaty elapses in August, opening the door to a transformational deal for the poorer nation.

Polls present a neck-and-neck race between Mr. Peña and Mr. Alegre, with every candidate main some surveys. (Paraguayan pollsters have traditionally been inaccurate. In 2018, polls wildly overestimated the help for the Colorado candidate.)

AtlasIntel, a Brazilian pollster, stated that in response to a latest on-line ballot of two,320 Paraguayans, Mr. Alegre led with 34 p.c, Mr. Peña had 33 p.c and Mr. Cubas had 23 p.c. The margin of error was 2 share factors. The ballot’s greatest shock was the extent of help for Mr. Cubas.

In interviews within the capital, Asunción, on Friday, Paraguayans stated they have been annoyed with corruption and the route of the nation, however they differed about who was the best individual to alter it.

Juana Salinas, 74, was ready for the bus exterior a market, with a black cane and a trash bag filled with meals containers on the market. She stated she supported Mr. Peña as a result of she had all the time voted Colorado, like her deceased mother and father. “Always, because I’m not going to dishonor my father and mother,” she stated. “My father is Colorado, my mother is Colorado.”

Inside the market, Cynthia Acosta, 29, was bagging dried corn kernels that prospects usually use to make chipa guasú, or Paraguayan cornbread. She stated she deliberate to vote for Mr. Alegre as soon as once more, as a result of she favored his plans to create jobs for younger individuals.

“There are a lot of things that need to change,” she stated. “It’s not an easy job for anyone.”

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