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PARAGUAY
Leftist bishop wins presidency
Gustavo Torres
4/30/2008
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Former bishop Fernando Lugo breaks Colorado Party’s 61-year rule.

Opposition candidate Fernando Lugo made Paraguayan history on April 20. The former Catholic bishop handedly won the presidency, breaking 61 years of uninterrupted rule by the conservative Colorado Party, defeating ruling party candidate Blanca Ovelar and former Gen. Lino Oviedo.

Lugo represents the Patriotic Alliance for Change, a grouping of nine opposition parties, including his runningmate’s party, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA). Voters elected the black sheep of the ballot, since Oviedo was a former Colorado leader.

The Superior Electoral Court said Lugo won with close to 41 percent of the vote, topping Ovelar who won 30.7 percent. Oviedo trailed in third place with 22 percent. More than sixty-five percent of the population voted, one of the highest voter turnouts in Paraguayan history.

The head of the Organization of American States’ electoral mission, former Colombian Foreign Minister María Emma Mejía, noted that voting was extremely peaceful.

But Lugo and his supporters had vehemently denounced a dirty, smear campaign against the former bishop by outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos, with the distribution of images in which Lugo appears supposedly as an ally of Colombian guerrillas. Claims also surfaced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez financially supported Lugo’s campaign.

Lugo’s backers celebrate
But once the results were released, thousands of people, mostly youths, party members and social movement members took to the streets, waving Paraguayan flags, giving the capital, Asuncion a carnival-like atmosphere.

“You are to blame for the joy that the Paraguayan people are experiencing today,” Lugo told his supporters in his first press conference since the official results were announced. “Paraguay will not simply be remembered for corruption and poverty, but instead, for its honesty.”

Amid chants of “Se siente, se siente, Lugo presidente,” — “You feel it, you feel it, Lugo will be president,” — the president elect addressed a rally of 80,000 in the capital who filled the city’s plaza to celebrate the party’s win.
“The victory belongs to the Paraguayan people who trusted in change and today have made that a reality. Today we have entered the history of the country and we want to renew our commitment with the people,” said Lugo.

Lugo, who begins his five-year term on Aug. 15, has promised economic growth with social equality, sweeping land reform, an overhaul of the country’s institutions. He says he will fight against corruption, ensure an independent judicial system and the country’s energy sovereignty, and instate a national emergency plan to deal with urgent social problems.

Even if Lugo will inherit stable macroeconomic indicators, on the microeconomic side “the daily reality is different,” says political analyst Víctor Barone. “The population is entrenched in the worst economic crisis. His first big challenge will be governing.” Barone says that Lugo is inheriting an administration run completely by Colorado Party members, including officials and public sector employees.

Lugo’s challenges
For Barone, the major challenge Lugo faces in his first year as president is to go after government corruption. His second year should focus on social projects. He must devote his third year to meet some electoral promises.

“The former bishop has created high expectations for change in the population,” Barone said. “It’s something that was expressed in the general election: winning in strongholds of the governing party.”

For professor Nilda García, what is happening in the country and even within her own family is historic, where members have traditionally voted for the Colorado Party.

“Starting today, we no longer vote for the Colorado Party. Today we have to think with our heads and not with our hearts because we were thinking incorrectly. As a teacher I can say with certainty that education has become completely party-controlled,” she said.

“The opinion of the majority is that everyone is looking for change. That change is Fernando Lugo, who at least is the one who gives us the most hope. The others already have long records [of rejecting change],” she added.

But Lugo will have difficulties in Congress, where he lacks a majority and his center-left alliance will be represented by more conservative-leaning lawmakers. His main strength is the right-wing PLRA, his runningmate Federico Franco’s party. Colorado party members will have a majority in both houses and are expected to form an alliance with members of pro-Oviedo parties.

Lugo is the first Catholic Church bishop to be elected president of a country. While he says he is no longer practicing, he will never lose his rank of bishop, according to the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference (CEP).
Nevertheless, it was not yet clear whether Pope Benedict XVI will recognize Lugo as president.

Mons. Ignacio Gogorza, president of the CEP, said that if the pope does accept him and Lugo wants to return to the Church in 2013, he will have to take a time of penance and reflection. If he does not accept , Lugo will be a suspended bishop for the rest of his life.


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Fernando Lugo (right) gives a
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