Region Continues Push to Give Voting Rights to Citizens Living Abroad
Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
On Oct. 9, Paraguay became the eighth South American country, and the 117th of the 189 nations represented at the UN, to give citizens living abroad the right to vote and run for office, regardless of where they reside. Beginning with the 2013 presidential election, when Paraguayans will choose a successor to President Fernando Lugo, the registered-voter roll will be enriched by slightly more than 700,000 new voters. All political parties had called on their members to vote "yes" in the referendum, but not all mobilized to ensure the success of an exercise called to strengthen the country's still-fragile democracy.
Prior to the referendum, which fulfills one of Lugo's campaign promises, he had said, "Democracy's consolidation comes about with a high level of participation." In his final message before the vote, he issued a communique asking voters to support the "yes" position and saying, "We who live in the country enjoy all rights, but we have an historic debt to our brothers and sisters who were forced to live abroad."
The president was referring to the bloody dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), and he said, "Tens of thousands of Paraguayans had to escape persecution, and many others left looking for the work that the country denied them. We have to ensure that those compatriots and their descendants regain the right to vote, which they lost for simply not being in the country."
In South America, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela already have progressive constitutional articles that guarantee their citizens the right to elect and be elected, wherever they live. Some political groups in Chile and Uruguay have tried to pass similar legislation but have run up against a wall built by the most conservative sectors of their societies.
Paraguay initiative wins on first try
This was Paraguay's first attempt, and all parties endorsed it, some generously and others with a discourse that was mean-spirited and, most of all, profoundly demagogic. They are, coincidentally, the most conservative parties on the political spectrum: the Partido Colorado (PC), which for 35 years supported and tried to give a democratic face to the dictatorship, and the Union Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (UNACE), founded and led by attempted-coup leader Gen. Lino Oviedo, who was jailed for involvement in political crimes and the most serious acts of corruption (NotiSur, Oct. 12, 2007).
The civil-society organization Centro de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadania del Inmigrante (CDHCI) and the Foro de Mujeres del MERCOSUR (FMM) denounced the attitudes of both parties. "We recognize that the right to participate in the political destiny of the country by voting also returns dignity and citizenship to these persons, as well as strengthening their ties to the country as its democracy matures and it regains sovereignty after so many years of pillage," said CDHCI coordinator Paulo Illes.
The civil-society organization Centro de Derechos Humanos y Ciudadanfa del Inmigrante (CDHCI) and the Foro de Mujeres del MERCOSUR (FMM) denounced the attitudes of both parties. "We recognize that the right to participate in the political destiny of the country by voting also returns dignity and citizenship to these persons, as well as strengthening their ties to the country as its democracy matures and it regains sovereignty after so many years of pillage," said CDHCI coordinator Paulo Illes.
Ivonne Lugo of the FMM said the "yes" victory on Oct. 9 "was a way to force the parties of the dictatorship to respect a minimal commitment to human rights and also respect the international community into which we are integrated, becoming the 117th country to guarantee everyone the right to vote."
In the referendum, "yes" received 80% of the vote and "no" the remaining 20%, but, because of the conservatives' boycott, with the complicity of the major media, only 12. …