Paraguay Goes to the Polls

Paraguay heads to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections today, after five years of Leftist rule. 

Bucking the trend in South America, this election has only two main contenders for the presidency and both are right wing. South America is traditionally left wing with strong socialist policies in Brazil, Argentina, and new member Venezuela. Only Colombia and Chile are now led by conservatives.

When Paraguay's former president Fernando Lugo was impeached, Paraguay was immediately suspended from the Union of South American Nations for "a rupture in the democratic process." Nearly 30 percent of trade in Paraguay relies on its South American neighbours.

Ideologically both candidates are running similar campaigns. As Paraguay currently has 40 percent of its population classed as below the poverty line, the focus is on jobs. Paraguay's economy shrunk by one percent last year although a strong return to growth this year. The two candidates proposal for the country's economy are almost identical. They both want to open the county up to 3 billion dollars in private investment for infrastructure and follow a Chilean model for growth.

Furthermore they want to privatise State Assets such as airports and highways and reduce the state service, which employs ten percent of the population. Both sides, however, have been criticised for not only a lack of depth in their policies but also their pasts.

More than just a return to right wing policy, this election represents a possible return to the corruption that has dogged the country. The two leading candidates have come under intense scrutiny for their dealings in the past. Candidate number one, Efrain Alegre, is a 50 year old lawyer who took over when Lugo was forced out. He is facing accusations of corruption including accusations he misappropriated $25 million of public funds which disappeared while he was minister of public works under Lugo. He paid companies for projects which then had their contracts rescinded before the work even began. Earlier in the month he paid $11 million to the family of Lino Oviedo.

Lino Oviedo had previously been another candidate but shortly after announced he would join an alliance with Alegre.

The other candidate is Horacio Cartes, a tobacco magnate hoping to modernize the nation. He is standing for the Colorado Party. He was jailed in the eighties for illegal currency dealings although he was later acquitted. He was also investigated by the US for trafficking drugs and contraband cigarettes. There are also allegations that he laundered money for the Brazillian Mafia. Cartes admits he only started voting four years ago and is a political new comer yet he leads in the polls. His background as a business man has helped him in this respect and his past doesn't appear to have hindered him much. Many believe it is this attitude to business that will help him run Paraguay.

While this election stands to affect its relations with its neighbours, it also affects confidence in the process. Security guard Carlos Aguirre said to reporters "Corruption Day is here". Former Farm Administrator said "Noone is clean". If Paraguay hopes to get the confidence of its people back then transparency will be key to this election. Both the Union of South American Nations and the Southern Common Market have sent election observers. If irregularities are found there then Paraguay's reintegration into the South American community will struggle.


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