Monday, April 22, 2013

Conservative Business Tycoon Wins Paraguayan Presidency

In Mexico last year the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) returned to the presidency after their seventy-one years of continuous rule was halted in 2000.  A similar story developed this weekend several thousand miles south in Paraguay.

Multimillionaire Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party was declared the winner of Paraguay’s presidential elections with 45.91% of the votes versus 36.84% for Efrain Alegre of the ruling Liberal Party.  Thus, the Colorados return to the presidency after having their sixty-one years in power broken in 2008 by former catholic priest Fernando Lugo.

"My legs trembled at the thought of the enormous and amazing responsibility of being president of all Paraguayans," Cartes said in his victory speech on Sunday night. "I want the people who did not vote for us to know that I'll put all my effort into earning their trust," declared one of Paraguay's richest men who owns over twenty businesses.

The conservative Cartes and the center-right Alegre both reportedly ran campaigns with similar platforms promising to create jobs and improve economic conditions.  According to U.N. estimates over half of all Paraguayans live in poverty while only 1% of residents control 77% of the country’s land.

Both men also engaged in negative campaigning against each other regarding faced corruption charges. Cartes was jailed for nearly a year in 1989 for illegal currency dealings though that conviction was later overturned.  He’s also believed to be involved in money laundering and tax evasion as part of his offshore dealings with the Banco Amambay that he owns.

The two main candidates differed over the issue of gay rights, which was most evident when Cartes recently compared gay people to “monkeys” and threatened to “shoot myself in the testicles” if his son were to seek same-sex marriage.

The ugly campaign may have extended itself to the election itself; for instance, a Colorado party senator was suspended on Saturday after he was filmed allegedly offering cash to rival Liberal party officials in exchange for annulled ballot papers. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Organization of American States electoral observer Oscar Arias praised the Paraguayan electorate though he did note “grievous electoral irregularities” such as the buying of votes.

One of the main obstacles President-elect Cartes will have to face is the diplomatic isolation of Paraguay from several regional blocs after the controversial ouster of Lugo from the presidency ten months ago.  The odds of Paraguay returning to the UNASUR improved after the group’s electoral observer team today gave a mostly positive review of the election. Meanwhile, the Argentine and uruguyana president sent congratulatory messages to Cartes and hinted that Paraguay could soon be reinstated to the Mercosur bloc.

The election marked the debut of an electronic voting system that officials claimed would provide real-time updates of the vote count online.  Yet the system "collapsed" according to a spokesman for Paraguay’s Electoral Court, and it returned to work shortly before the tribunal delacred Cortes as the winner.

The election was also the first where over 21,000 eligible Paraguayan expats were allowed to vote. Though they represented only a fraction of the 3.5 million total eligible voters, Paraguayans residing in Spain reportedly voted en masse while an estimated 52-55% of eligible expats in Argentina went to the ballots.

Video Source– YouTube via Al Jazeera English

Online Sources - International Consortium of Investigative Journalists; New York Times; The Guardian; El Diario/La Prensa/;; Reuters;; teleSUR; The Latin Americanist; Terra Colombia; MercoPress; CBS News

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