December 10, 2023

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Paraguay’s new president is Santiago Pena

The long queues to vote surprised locals and strangers alike.

Santiago Peña, the candidate of the ruling Colorado Party, has become Paraguay’s new president, beating his rival Efrain Alegre from the opposition coalition in official vote counts.

Peña, a 44-year-old economist, had 44.72% of the vote, 60% of the votes in 12,259 polls across the country, and he counted against his opponent from the Concertacion for New Paraguay with 27.88%.

If the trend continues, the conservative Colorado party will extend its political dominance for another five years. Pena will establish himself as the youngest president since the return of democracy in 1989.

“The decision is irreversible,” ruling party representative Wildo Almiron told a press conference.

Neither the opposition candidate nor the Election Commission ruled on the provisional results.

The day was marked by long lines of voters at schools in Asuncion and created delays of more than two hours, a rare image for the country, with a high turnout of 4.7 million registered voters, according to election officials. Despite the fact that voting is compulsory, there is a large number of absentees in each election.

The High Court of Electoral Justice, which is in charge of the process, did not disclose the percentage of participation, but announced that it would be necessary to wait another three or four hours to know the final official results, as there were still long queues. Voters in schools, explained the agency’s IT director Fausto von Streber.

Paraguay, a landlocked country whose stagnant economy coexists with high levels of poverty and corruption that has tilted toward the continuation of South America’s longest-ruling party, has taken an unexpected turn in a round of elections. For the interests of the United States, China and Taiwan in Latin America.

The winner will succeed incumbent President Mario Abdo Benitez for the 2023-2028 term.

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The Conservative Colorado Party has been in power since 1947, including the political support of dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954–1989), except for a brief period of progressive semblance led by former bishop Fernando Lugo in 2008, which ended in early 2012. Dismissal inquiry..

Sponsored by former President and Chancellor Horacio Cortés (2013-2018), a strongman in Paraguayan politics, he was recently declared “significantly corrupt” by the United States.

“We have prepared ourselves to win and we firmly believe that we are the best option,” former finance minister Bina said after casting his vote.

In a message read earlier, the postulant candidate had said, “We choose a Paraguay that plans its future to take the great leap we need, or we choose a country that leads in development.”

The main challenge to the dominance of the Colorado party appears to be the Pact for a New Paraguay with the 60-year-old candidate Alegre and leader of the traditional Real Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) and a staunch opponent of Cártez.

“Our enemy is not the Colorado Party, but the dirty money of organized crime,” Alegre said earlier in the day.

Other charges

In addition to the president and vice president who will be sworn in on August 15, 45 seats in the Senate and 80 seats in the House of Representatives are at stake, which will be key to shaping the future Congress and guaranteeing stability. Future government. Additionally, 17 governors are elected.

Despite being electronically operated, many people, especially the elderly, find it difficult to operate the machines, causing delays.

While seeking assistance, debates were created between party representatives and election officials, as voting was not allowed, except for the physically challenged.

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Local media also reported incidents between supporters of the two forces over the placement of ballot boxes in some Asuncion schools. Apart from the odd case of one militant biting another’s ear, police intervention has not escalated the clashes, local media reported.

An hour after polling, long queues were maintained in many schools, especially in and around the capital. The Election Authority has clarified that despite the closure of the establishments, people inside them can vote.

“The police are standing last (voter) in the queue. After I vote, the table is closed and inspected,” explained election judge Fabiana Marin. “If people suddenly come to join that is the limit”,

The massive voter turnout took Paraguayans by surprise.

Generally, we Paraguayans prefer to stay in our homes and watch TV. But surprisingly, there are so many people at such an early hour, obviously there is anticipation,” said Georgelina Bokarin, 55, after voting at a school in the city of Asuncion.

The woman explained that this massive voter turnout caught her attention “because there is continuity in the change we already have (by the Colorado government). No matter what color it is, it’s the same. Same corrupt system, same people”.

Her husband Jose Bogarin, 75, said he voted for the ruling party because “I prefer the present to the new. It’s too bad.”

The large voter turnout contrasted with a generally apathetic and colorless campaign that featured no major rallies or mass events, which many analysts attributed to the ruling party’s difficulties in financing a campaign for sanctions against incumbent President Cárdes. of the Colorado Party.

The disinterest of the majority of citizens in the electoral process was also marked, which was particularly evident among the youth.

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According to the US State Department’s indictment, the former president “engaged in corrupt practices before, during and after his term in office.”

He also condemned taking bribes from Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US. The tobacco tycoon, who owns banks, media and gas stations and other businesses, denies the allegations. The agency froze his assets and prevented him from operating in its financial system.

Asked if he would agree to extradite his political godfather, Bina replied, “It’s a judicial process, not an executive one. As president, I will do justice.

The opposition sought to capture the votes of the youth between the ages of 18 and 30, a segment with high absenteeism.

“I’m not interested in politics,” Ana Benitez, an 18-year-old kinesiology student who is voting for the first time, told the AP. “But I support a change. In my house they are opponents of the government”.

Although Paraguay has a relatively stable economy, it has structural problems that were unquestioned during the campaign: labor informality affects 7 out of 10 workers; 24.7% are poverty, tax evasion and drug trafficking etc.

In an election campaign rife with proposals, one of the biggest points of contention among candidates is the alliance with Taiwan, where geopolitics are intertwined with the interests of Paraguayan soybean producers and ranchers looking to sell to China.

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