Polling stations have opened throughout Paraguay as voters decide a president they hope will deal with endemic corruption, rising crime and financial inequality, with the election doubtlessly impacting the nation’s future ties with Taiwan.
A centre-left coalition is aiming to finish the just about unbroken, seven-decade hegemony of the ruling conservative Colorado Social gathering within the closest race in a few years.
Some 4.8 million of the South American nation’s 7.5 million inhabitants are eligible to vote within the election for the president and legislature that can be decided in a single spherical on Sunday.
Lawyer Efrain Alegre, 60, of the Concertacion centre-left coalition, was main narrowly in opinion polls earlier than the vote amid a latest anti-incumbency pattern in Latin American elections.
His most important challenger is Santiago Pena, a 44-year-old economist and former finance minister hoping to proceed the rule of the Colorado Social gathering that has ruled nearly frequently since 1947 – via a dictatorship and for the reason that return of democracy in 1989.
Although they differ on financial and worldwide coverage, the 2 frontrunners are each socially conservative, defending sturdy anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage stances in an overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
As polls opened, Alegre and Pena urged Paraguayans to vote, a name echoed by outgoing President Mario Abdo Benitez, who’s constitutionally restricted to a single time period.
“The upper the turnout, the better the legitimacy of democracy,” Abdo stated after being one of many first to forged a poll within the capital Asuncion.
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The result may have vital penalties for Paraguay’s worldwide relations. It’s amongst solely 13 international locations to recognise Taipei over Beijing.
However Alegre has vowed to rethink this if he wins.
“Relations with Taiwan imply the lack of one of many largest markets, which is China,” he advised the AFP information company.
“Paraguay makes a really large effort, a really large sacrifice to have relations with Taiwan, however we aren’t seeing from Taiwan the identical effort,” he stated.
Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground.
China considers self-ruled, democratic Taiwan a part of its territory to be retaken at some point, and doesn’t permit international locations that keep relations with China to recognise each Beijing and Taipei.
Nicaragua shifted its allegiance to Beijing in 2021, as did El Salvador in 2018, Panama in 2017 and Costa Rica in 2007.
Pena has stated he would retain ties with Taiwan however transfer Paraguay’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Paraguay had beforehand moved its embassy in 2018, however reversed its resolution inside months.
“Sure, I’d return to Jerusalem,” Pena advised AFP earlier than the vote.
Alegre repeatedly pointed to corruption within the Colorado Social gathering, which has seen two of its high members not too long ago hit with US sanctions over alleged graft.
They embody Pena’s political mentor and president of the Colorado Social gathering, former President Horacio Cartes.
Paraguay is ranked 137 out of 180 international locations on Transparency Worldwide’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
“We’re going to defeat the Paraguayan Pablo Escobar and we’re going to launch the actual Paraguay – the Paraguay of exhausting work, of the household, of patriotism. That’s our Paraguay,” Alegre advised Al Jazeera from a rally.
When requested concerning the Paraguayan equal of Colombian drug lord Escobar, Alegre responded: “Cartes, he’s the Pablo Escobar of Paraguay and his hand-picked candidate, Santiago Pena is ‘El Chili’, Escobar’s right-hand man,” Alegre stated.
Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from the capital of Asuncion, stated that after two failed makes an attempt to run for president, “Alegre appears assured he can be third-time fortunate. His marketing campaign slogan is, ‘a selection between the mafia or the nation.’”
“Cartes is considered one of Paraguay’s wealthiest and strongest males, who was sanctioned by the US in January for ‘rampant corruption that undermines democratic establishments’ and alleged ties to drug trafficking and Hezbollah,” Newman stated.
Pena advised Al Jazeera that his mentor Cartes, who denies the fees of corruption, has the suitable to defend himself and likewise insisted that he’s his personal man.
“No one can declare that I’m not ready to be president, nobody can declare that I would not have the experience in public coverage, and no person can level to myself [and say] that I’ve any case of corruption throughout my companies in public administration,” Pena stated.
Other than the shadow of top-level graft, which has angered voters, different election points embody poverty, social inequality and an escalating crime downside.
Paraguay’s gross home product is predicted to develop 4.8 % in 2023, in keeping with the central financial institution, and 4.5 % in keeping with the Worldwide Financial Fund – one of many highest charges in Latin America.
However poverty plagues a couple of quarter of the inhabitants.
“The nation is stuffed with privileged individuals. Folks earn 100 million guaranis (about $14,000) a month whereas others are dying of starvation,” Alegre stated.
Paraguay’s Indigenous teams, and inhabitants of casual settlements, really feel particularly uncared for.
“I’m not . We’re not going to vote,” stated Albino Cubas, who has shared a ramshackle picket hut along with his spouse and three kids within the capital’s Tacumbu slum since a flood took their residence.
“I’ve not seen a critical proposal for the poor,” he advised AFP.
Along with the presidency, voters are deciding the members of the legislature and selecting 17 governors.