Updated April 22—On April 21, Paraguayans headed to the polls to elect the next president in the wake of last year’s presidential impeachment. The presidency returned to the Colorado Party, which held power for over 60 years—though both the Colorado and government-backed candidates offered similar plans. Winning Colorado candidate Horacio Cartes will succeed Federico Franco of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, the former vice president who took the helm in June 2012 following President Fernando Lugo’s impeachment. The left-leaning former priest of the Patriotic Alliance for Change, Lugo was the first non-Colorado head of state since 1948. In Paraguay, there are no runoff elections; Cartes simply needed to achieve a majority. Presidents serve a single five-year term, and the new leader will take office on August 15. Paraguay also held parliamentary elections on Sunday, with Lugo winning a spot in the Senate.
In months leading up the election, Cartes lead the polls, with Efraín Alegre of the ruling party in second place. Cartes won with 45.8 percent of the vote, while Alegre received 36.9 percent. The difference of less than 10 points was possibly due to Allegre’s alliance-building efforts. Earlier this month, Alegre secured an alliance with another candidate—Lino Oviedo—whose uncle, the original candidate, died in a helicopter accident in February.
Ideologically, Cartes and Alegre largely ran on similar platforms. With a third of the population living below the poverty line and the country’s economy shrinking by nearly 1 percent last year, both campaigned that they would create jobs. Many of the two candidates’ proposals on energy, rural development, security, and transparency were nearly identical, reports Infolatam. Cartes and Alegre both intended to open the country to nearly $3 billion in private investment for infrastructure, and to follow a Chilean model for economic growth. Alegre said he would open state enterprises to private investment, specifically for airports and highways.
The candidates share another facet: they have faced allegations of corruption. Cartes, a tobacco magnate, stands accused of smuggling, tax evasion, and money laundering, among other charges. Alegre faced criticism over a controversial land deal possibly connected to the Oviedo political alliance; earlier this month, the government paid over $11 million to purchase land from the Oviedo family—just before Alegre announced the Unace pact. (Jorge Oviedo Matto, president of Paraguay’s congress, resigned as a result of the scandal.) Alegre also faced charges of mismanaging funds while serving as minister of public works from 2008 to 2011. Both candidates deny all allegations of wrongdoing.
The outcome of the election will affect Paraguay’s relations with its neighbors, as the government hopes to regain its membership with the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). After Lugo’s impeachment, both multilateral organizations suspended Paraguay, saying there was a “rupture in the democratic process.” Prior to opening the polls this weekend, UNASUR and the Organization of American States sent election observers—a step toward rejoining Mercosur. Paraguay could have an impact on the bloc once it regains membership. Despite Paraguayan opposition, Venezuela joined Mercosur, while Bolivia began the process to become a full member, both in the past year. Once Paraguay is readmitted to the blocs, the EU said trade talks with Mercosur can begin again.