Continuities and changes in Paraguay

Faced with the dispersion of the vote that called for change, the Colorado Party once again consolidates power and the pro-government Santiago Peña is the new president of Paraguay with 42.74% of the vote. His main rival and opposition leader, Efraín Alegre (27.49%) with the Concertación alliance. The electoral surprise was the candidate for the National Crusade Party, Paraguayo Cubas, who consolidated himself as third (22.92%), despite the fact that he was eliminated by his colleagues from the Senate in 2019.

With electronic voting and without a ballotage, on Sunday, April 30, the general elections were held in Paraguay to elect representatives of the Executive and Legislative Powers, and departmental positions. The president-elect will take office on August 15, for a period of five years, and will replace the current president Mario Abdo Benítez of the Colorado Party.

The electoral contest was articulated in the key of partisan alternation or the continuity of a traditional party that won six of the last seven elections, testing its hegemony and territorial control.

The conservative Colorado Party has governed Paraguay since 1947 –being the political support of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner– and had a brief exception between 2008 and 2012 when progressivism governed with former president Fernando Lugo.

Although there were twelve presidential candidates, the surveys showed that Santiago Peña and Efraín Alegre were the ones who concentrated the largest number of votes, while in recent weeks Paraguayo Cubas has grown with a disruptive discourse, critical of the political leadership and with much media space.

The two favorites in these elections were the candidate of the National Republican Association – the official name of the traditional Colorado Party – Santiago Peña, who had the support of former President Horacio Cartes (2013-2018) and Efraín Alegre, of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. However, Cubas prepared to settle in third place, threatening Paraguayan bipartisanship and compromising the ability to generate alliances in the Senate.

Again without women. We can say that Paraguay is the most conservative country in South America. Its regulations establish that political parties must promote a representation of women of no less than 20% and there must be one woman for every five places on the lists.

However, it has the lowest levels of women’s participation in the different spaces of political representation and decision-making in the region.

In the 2018 elections, out of ten presidential formulas, there was only one woman as a candidate and it was for the vice presidency, the rest were men. In these last elections the number rose to seven candidates out of a total of 26.

With a traditionally macho and patriarchal society, Paraguay continues to be a difficult country in political matters for women. Only 15% of legislators are women, a figure that is well below the Latin American regional average of around a third. Despite the struggle of women’s movements, projects of political violence based on gender and parity that will surely be incorporated into the agenda of political parties continue without legislative treatment.

Likewise, the electoral reform of closed and unblocked lists threatens the effective participation of women, since this system forces them to campaign individually and that requires financing that is usually scarce in female candidacies.

Shuffle and deal again. Two points cross the electoral agenda. In the first place, the impact that the US definition of former President Horacio Cartes had on the ANR as a significantly corrupt person. However, the majorities achieved in the Senate and Deputies, in addition to the great victory of the party in fifteen of the 17 governorates, shows that party discipline and territorial control are still in force. But Peña will have to consolidate the Republican embrace to tilt these majorities in his favor.

Secondly, the need to listen to and contain the broad electorate that disorderly voted for a change, despite Peña’s consecration. Citizen weariness is a climate of the time that seems to have consolidated, especially among young people (30% of the electorate).

Although the ANR is consolidating its power, it cannot lose sight of the fact that Paraguay is beginning a model of change: with a ruling party whose president Horacio Cartes must face legal proceedings against him and with an opposition that is much more fragmented and disruptive than the that the current president Mario Abdo Benítez knew how to experience.

*Director of the Electoral Observatory of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean. Observatory of Political Reforms of Latin America. University professor (UNSO/USAL/Incap).

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