Paraguay’s long-ruling Colorado party easily wins election

ASUNCIÓN – Paraguayans voted overwhelmingly to keep the Colorado Party in power for five more years, backing its presidential candidate and giving it a majority in both houses of Congress.

Santiago Peña, a 44-year-old economist, won 43% of the vote in a preliminary count for Sunday’s election, with almost all polling stations. That was far ahead of the 27% held by his closest challenger, Efraín Alegre of the Pact for a New Paraguay, a broad opposition coalition that had united in a bid to end Colorado’s stranglehold on power for seven decades.

Colorado’s Conservative Party has also performed well in other races, winning 15 of 17 gubernatorial positions in the elections and securing majorities in the Senate and lower house.

Led by Alegre, the opposition coalition was optimistic about its ability to win votes due to widespread dissatisfaction with high levels of corruption and failings in the health and education systems, which took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, a significant number of non-Colorado voters instead backed Paraguayo Cubas, a right-wing populist outsider who won 23% of the vote with a strong anti-establishment message, a larger share than expected.

There were 13 candidates in all, but Paraguay does not require a presidential candidate to obtain more than 50% of the vote, giving victory to whoever obtains the most votes.

Peña celebrated a showing that on August 15 will make him Paraguay’s youngest president since democracy returned in 1989.

“Today, we are not celebrating a personal triumph, we are celebrating the victory of a people who, by their vote, have chosen the path of social peace, dialogue, fraternity and national reconciliation,” he said. Peña told a crowd of supporters on Sunday night. “Long live Paraguay! Long live the Colorado Party!

Alegre conceded defeat soon after.

“Today the results indicate that maybe the effort we made was not enough,” Alegre told reporters, adding that divisions within the opposition “prevented us from reaching the goal of being able to bring about the change that the majority of Paraguayans are asking from us.”

The first to congratulate the elected president was the outgoing president, Mario Abdo Benítez. “Congratulations to the Paraguayan people for their great participation in this electoral process, and to President-elect Santiago Peña,” he said on social media. “We will work to initiate an orderly and transparent transition that strengthens our institutions and the country’s democracy.

Ahead of the vote, analysts had predicted a close race for the presidency, saying Alegre could stand a chance of toppling South America’s longest-serving ruling party, which has essentially ruled Paraguay continuously since 1947.

But many voters preferred to stick with the familiar, an unusual turn in a region where incumbents have not fared well in recent elections.

“An unexpected result, very unexpected. I think even Colorado Party members are shocked by such a margin,” said political consultant Sebastián Acha. “It gives him enormous legitimacy because of the size of the difference and it makes Peña’s victory indisputable.”

The results also appeared to mark a victory for former President Horacio Cartes, who ruled from 2013 to 2018, and whom the US State Department recently accused of being involved in “significant corruption” as well as having links to terrorism. He denied the allegations, while Peña called them “baseless”.

Cartes, a local tycoon who is also the president of the Colorado Party, is a powerful figure in Paraguayan politics, and opposition members had branded Peña the leader for Cartes to hold power.

Cartes stood next to Peña as he delivered his celebratory speech on Sunday evening.

“I want to be a tool for you,” Cartes told Peña. “I want you to be sure that the Colorado Party will be your best tool.”

Peña was finance minister in the Cartes government and, until recently, a board member of Banco Basa, a local bank owned by the former president.

The United States Embassy released a statement on social media congratulating Peña. “We will continue to work together to strengthen our excellent bilateral relations and promote transparency and inclusive democracy,” he added.

The election in the country of nearly 7 million people also had geopolitical implications as Paraguay is the only South American country to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and those ties have become an issue in the campaign. .

Alegre had called for the landlocked country’s relationship with Taiwan to be reviewed, saying it was too costly. Peña defended Paraguay’s relationship with Taipei, although he said he would seek to increase trade with China, without explaining how that would happen.

“We have a diplomatic and historical relationship with Taiwan of more than 60 years, based on democratic principles and values ​​that we believe are fundamental for a society like Paraguay,” Peña said.

The Taiwanese embassy posted a message on social media congratulating “president-elect” Peña.

“Congratulations to the people of Paraguay, who have shown the world the democratic power of citizens through their votes,” the embassy said.

Center-left Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also praised Peña.

“Good luck in your tenure,” the Brazilian wrote on social media. “We will work together for even better and stronger relations between our countries, and for a South America with more unity, development and prosperity.”

Alegre, a lawyer who leads the Liberal Party, the second largest political force in Congress, was making his third run for president, although this time he represents a mix of political parties.

Peña’s presidential campaign has been hampered by US sanctions against Cartes for alleged corruption and ties to Hezbollah, which Washington designates as a terrorist group. The sanctions blocked Maps from the US financial system and cut off party campaign funding and loans.

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