Paraguay backed the continuation of the ruling Colorado Party for another five-year term by electing its candidate Santiago Peña as president in Sunday’s general election by an unexpected difference despite serious corruption allegations involving ruling party leader Horacio Cartes. .
Peña, a 44-year-old economist, obtained 42.74% of the votes against 27.48% for candidate Efraín Alegre of the opposition Concertación for a New Paraguay, after counting almost all of the 12,259 polling stations.
The Colorado Party thus extends its political hegemony in the South American nation, which it has ruled since 1947, even as the political support of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), with the exception of a brief period of progressive tinge between 2008 and 2012.
Alegre, who was running for the presidency for the third time, acknowledged defeat and announced that “we will continue fighting with our principles, the fight continues.”
The first to congratulate the president-elect was the outgoing president. “Congratulations to the Paraguayan people for their great participation in this election day and to the president-elect Santiago Peña,” Mario Abdo Benítez said on Twitter. “We will work to initiate an orderly and transparent transition that strengthens our institutions and the country’s democracy.”
From the United States to the presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from Brazil; Alberto Fernández, from Argentina; Luis Lacalle Pou, from Uruguay; and Gabriel Boric, from Chile, greeted the youngest elected president of Paraguay since the return of democracy in 1989.
The US Department of State, through its spokesman Matthew Miller, congratulated the people of Paraguay for the successful holding of free and fair elections on April 30.
In a statement, Miller added: “We congratulate President-elect Santiago Peña on his election victory. We applaud the work of the Superior Court of Electoral Justice and the work of the international observation missions”.
The statement also indicates that: “We look forward to working with President-elect Peña and his government to promote common interests such as fighting corruption and impunity and promoting security and economic growth for the benefit of both countries. Our common interests and shared democratic values will continue to underpin the historic partnership between the people of Paraguay and the United States.”
Although great economic, social and energy policy challenges await him, the first big announcement from the new president was aimed at Venezuela.
“I have said it publicly, my intention is to restore relations with Venezuela,” which were interrupted in 2019, Peña said during a television interview.
Peña’s massive victory confirmed, on the one hand, that the powerful electoral machinery of the Colorado Party remained intact despite the economic sanctions against former president and magnate Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), the strongman of Paraguayan politics who was recently declared a “person significantly corrupt” by the United States.
At the same time, the opposition led by Alegre was unable to capitalize on the weariness of broad sectors of Paraguayan society with endemic corruption. Almost 23% of the votes went to the right-wing candidate Paraguayo Cubas, who held an anti-system discourse.
63% of the register of almost five million voters voted. Peña garnered 1.2 million votes against 830,842 for Alegre.
“An unexpected result, very unexpected. I think that even the colorados themselves fall on their backs with such a bulky result”, analyzed the political consultant Sebastián Acha. “It gives him enormous legitimacy due to the size of the difference and that makes the presidency unquestionably won by Peña.”
Peña was sponsored by the former president, who was previously his Secretary of the Treasury and an employee of the BASA bank, owned by the businessman.
“Many thanks to my dear president of the ANR (National Republican Association, formal name of the Colorado Party), Horacio Cartes. I admire the immensity of your obstinacy for the fate of the Colorado Party. Thank you for this red victory, thank you for this Paraguayan victory, ”declared the president-elect from the stage of the party headquarters, with Cartes next to him.
For Acha, Peña “now has to see if that legitimacy helps him get rid of the figure of Cartes, an uncomfortable figure in this whole situation for international relations. He will have to show that he has his own flight ”.
Peña says he would not get in the way of the eventual extradition of Cartes
Before the election, Peña announced that he would not intervene in a possible extradition process, although he considered that the accusations by the United States “have no foundation.”
According to the State Department’s complaint, the former president engaged in “acts of corruption before, during, and after his tenure.” He also denounced that he collected bribes from Hezbollah, considered by the United States a terrorist organization.
In retaliation, the US government froze the assets of Cartes and his companies and prevented them from operating in its financial system. Cartes, owner of a conglomerate of companies ranging from tobacco to livestock and large media, denies the charges.
After knowing the result, the US ambassador in Asunción, Marc Ostfield, announced that “we will continue working together to strengthen our excellent bilateral relations and promote transparency and an inclusive democracy.”
“I want to be a tool for you,” Cartes said when taking the floor during the celebrations of the ruling party. “I want you to be sure that the Colorado Party is going to be your best tool,” he advanced to his dauphin.
The ruling party also obtained the majority of the 45 seats in the Senate and 80 in the Deputies, according to the official count. And 15 of the 17 governorates.
[Con información de The Associated Press]