Paraguay: Victory of Nicanor Duarte Frutos Maintains Partido Colorado Hold on Power

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, May 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

Paraguay: Victory of Nicanor Duarte Frutos Maintains Partido Colorado Hold on Power


Paraguayan voters who went to the polls on April 27 opted to stay with the party that has been in power since 1947-- longer than any other party still in power in the world. Nicanor Duarte Frutos, candidate for the governing Asociacion Nacional Republica (ANR, Partido Colorado), won handily, taking 37.3% of the vote.

Voters also chose a vice president, 45 senators, 80 deputies, 17 governors, and 191 departmental officials. Paraguay, with a population of 5.9 million people, has 2.4 million registered voters. Although voting is compulsory, indications following the election were that no more than 60% of eligible voters went to the polls.

Julio Cesar Franco of the Partido Liberal Radical Autentico (PLRA) came in second with 23.8% of the votes, while Pedro Falud, a wealthy banker and independent founder of the Patria Querida movement, placed third with 21.7%. Guillermo Sanchez Guffanti of the Partido Union Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (PUNACE) took a surprising 13.2%.

Under Paraguay's electoral law, only a simple majority of the valid votes cast is needed to win the presidency.

Outcome widely anticipated

After the Tribunal Superior de Justicia Electoral (TSJE) banned from the election Lino Oviedo, the exiled leader of PUNACE who is considered the most popular person in Paraguay, Duarte's victory was expected. Oviedo is wanted in Paraguay on charges of planning the 1999 assassination of Vice President Luis Maria Argana (see NotiSur, 1999-03-26). Sanchez was seen as a substitute for Oviedo.

The 46-year-old Duarte is married to biochemist Maria Gloria Penayo, with whom he has five children. He has graduate degrees in political science and teaching and was a journalist for the Paraguayan daily Ultima Hora between 1981 and 1991. He joined the Partido Colorado when he was 14 and was elected head of the party in 2001. Duarte was minister of education and culture from 1993 to 1997 and again from 1999 to January 2001.

During the campaign, Duarte presented voters with "60 concrete solutions" to the nation's problems. He said they would be financed through economic growth and better use of state resources. He promised to guarantee quality education for all, provide a massive adult-literacy program, build new middle schools, and provide scholarships to poor youth.

He also said he would improve access to health care and other services, increase social-security coverage, and reduce poverty. Among the programs to combat poverty, he said he would implement a Plan Nacional de Lucha contra la Pobreza to strengthen the economy of campesino families, improve productivity, marketing, and other aspects of rural life.

In his victory speech, Duarte dropped the often combative tone of the campaign, praising his opponents' efforts in what was the strongest opposition showing in Paraguay in decades. He appealed to opposition leaders to join him in a national unity government to confront the serious national problems. He promised to combat the rampant corruption that has plagued Paraguay for decades and announced a full reorganization of the customs and internal revenue services, well-known sources of corruption.

The German-based watchdog group Transparency International (TI) ranks Paraguay among the most corrupt countries in the world (see NotiSur, 2002-09-06).

"I want to be a president who recovers the country's credibility, a president who is respected by the international community," said the president-elect.

But Duarte's political opponents said that he has protected corrupt politicians. And Fadul said Duarte had benefitted from "the use of the state to influence the state employees and their families," who make up 40% of the electorate.

Franco weighs cooperation with new administration

Duarte invited Franco to consider a post in his government, calling the challenges it faces "a great task of national, political, and economic reconstruction. …

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