Paraguay: Elections that will decide between continuity or change

Presidential and parliamentary elections are set to be held in Paraguay on April 30. The ruling Colorado Party is facing a stiff challenge from an opposition alliance called the Coalition for a New Paraguay

April 28, 2023 by Erika Gimenez
Presidential elections will be held on April 30 in Paraguay (Photo via ARG Medios)

Presidential elections will be held in Paraguay on April 30. The elections will be held in a single round, which means that the candidate with the highest number of votes will be the winner. 

On August 15, the newly elected President take over from the incumbent, Mario Abdo Benitez, for a five-year term. 45 senators (30 alternates), 80 deputies (more than 80 alternates), 17 governors and 257 councilmen will also be elected.

According to the polls, the leading contenders are Santiago Peña of the incumbent National Republican Association (or the Colorado Party) and Efraín Alegre of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA), who is leading a coalition called the Coalition for a New Paraguay (Concertación para un Nuevo Paraguay). The other major candidates are Payo Cubas (Cruzada Nacional), Euclides Acevedo (Movimiento Nueva República) and José Luis Chilavert (Partido de la Juventud).

The Colorado Party candidate, Santiago Peña, is a protégé of former President Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), the current president of the party and a tobacco businessman, who has been sanctioned by the US for corruption.

The Liberal Party’s candidate, Efraín Alegre, is a 60-year-old lawyer who, backed by a concerted effort by the opposition forces, making a third bid for the presidency. A key slogan of this party has been the need for change or “alternation” in power. 

According to some political analysts in Paraguay, this is Alegre’s best shot so far at winning the election as the ruling party is divided between supporters of Cartes and Abdo Benítez. 

The second electoral poll carried out by Atlas between April 1 and 4 predicted that Efraín Alegre would get 38% and Santiago Peña 36%, declaring a technical tie. They are followed by Payo Cubas with 14% in third place. 

“The current political pulse in Paraguay is marked by the emergence of the Coalition for a New Paraguay, an electoral platform resulting from a multi-party agreement between 23 parties and 2 movements opposing the National Republican Association (ANR), better known as the Colorado Party. The ANR has governed Paraguay for the last 70 years with the exception of the brief term of the progressive Fernando Lugo,” noted the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (CELAG). 

Since 1947, the Colorados have governed the country under civilian and military governments. They were strong supporters of the military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, the longest in the history of Latin America. In fact, the incumbent president, Mario Abdo Benitez, is the son of Stroessner’s private secretary. 

The only break in the rule of the Colorado Party was during Lugo’s presidency, which was cut short through an extremely controversial  accelerated impeachment process in parliament in 2012. The Colorados returned to government the next year. 

Speaking to ARG Medios, Thannia Saucedo, political leader and Youth Secretary of the Tekojoja Popular Party of Paraguay, said that ahead of the elections, there had not been any in-depth discussion of public policies, different economic models, or visions for the country.

Regarding the polls, Saucedo said that “There is very little difference between the official candidate, Santiago Peña and Efraín Alegre.” She added that this cycle has been marked by the emergence of Payo Cubas, who has dual citizenship (US and Paraguyan) and has taken a stand against human rights and people’s movements. She compared his candidacy to those of Javier Milei in Argentina, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador.

Nonetheless, the elections continue to be dominated by the traditional parties, Thannia Saucedo said. The progressive opposition has not been able to consolidate or build a figure of its own like Fernando Lugo in 2008.

This article was adapted from two pieces written by Erika Gimenez and originally published on ARG Medios.