Paraguay’s Colorado Party, in Power Since 1947, Faces Significant Challenge at the Polls
By Daniel Hollingsworth
April 20, 2008 | Printer Friendly
Polls leading up to the Sunday, April 20 presidential election in Paraguay show a close race between Colorado party candidate Blanca Ovelar and former Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo, in a race that could initiate the first transfer of power away from the Colorado party since it backed the 35-year dictatorship of Alfred Stroessner, beginning in 1947. Ovelar represents the center-right Colorado party and is Paraguay’s first female presidential candidate, while Lugo heads the center-left Patriotic Alliance for Change, a coalition of farm groups, trade unions, and the Liberal Party. They are joined in the race by a third candidate, Lino Oviedo of the far right UNACE party. Election laws in Paraguay do not require a candidate to capture an outright majority, so no additional rounds of voting will be necessary to determine the winner.
Reuters writes that “Dozens of international observers will be watching for signs of electoral fraud in the poor South American country known for widespread corruption and contraband.” Ovelar, Paraguay’s first female presidential candidate, has pledged to accept the result of the vote regardless of the outcome, and has urged her fellow candidates to pledge to do the same. The campaign has been filled with accusations of dirty tactics; The New York Times reports that Lugo refused to participate in a final scheduled debate on April 17 because “‘political conditions did not exist’ to participate.” One of the more prominent charges against Lugo is that Paraguay’s constitution, which bars church officials from serving as president, makes his bid illegal. Lugo resigned from the church in 2006, but the Vatican refused to accept his resignation and only considers him to be suspended from his clerical role.
The BBC reports that outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos “has accused Venezuela of trying to meddle in the elections - a charge denied by President Hugo Chavez.” While Lugo’s coalition resembles that of prominent Latin American populists, Reuters writes, “He has steered clear of South America's more radical leftist leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales in Bolivia.” Some have also questioned Ovelar’s ability to independently govern the country if she were to win. According to the New York Times, “analysts say she was backed by the president, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, over Vice President Luis Castiglioni to ensure that Mr. Duarte Frutos remains the power behind the presidency.” Duarte Frutos attempted to change the constitution in 2006 to permit him to run again, and “if Mrs. Ovelar wins, the Colorado Party apparatus is likely to give him considerable sway as president of the Senate.”
Reuters: Paraguay votes in first big test for ruling party
BBC News: Paraguay votes in key elections
New York Times: Trading Pulpit for Politics, Paraguay Cleric is Favored
For additional background on Paraguay, visit the following links:
Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2007
State Department Background Notes
CIA World Factbook
BBC News Country Profiles