Paraguay candidate with ties to dictatorship set for presidential election

Vastavam web: The US-educated son of a top aide to Paraguay’s late dictator is favourite to win today’s presidential election in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.Opinion polls give Mario Abdo Benitez of the ruling conservative Colorado party a clear lead over his centrist opponent, Efrain Alegre, in a two-horse race to succeed outgoing conservative President Horacio Cartes.Landlocked Paraguay — sandwiched between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil — has enjoyed consistent economic growth under tobacco magnate Cartes, but has failed to shrug off persistent poverty, corruption and drug trafficking.

However, a new generation of voter among the electorate of 4.2 million — born after the dictatorship responsible for the deaths or disappearances of up to 3,000 people — seems ready to turn the page.Polls in recent weeks have given Abdo Benitez, the twice-divorced son of Stroessner’s personal secretary, a lead of 20 points ahead of 55-year-old Alegre in the race to succeed Cartes.However, the latest opinion polls predict a neck and neck finish and predicate an Abdo Benitez win on a turnout of less than 70 per cent.

But there has been little progress in alleviating poverty that has remained stubbornly at 26.4 per cent and corruption, with Paraguay languishing 135th out of 180 countries ranked by Transparency International.”If Benitez loses, it will be a vote of sanction against Cartes, who has presided over a government of exclusion. People are reacting with weariness,” pollsters Sneard told AFP.Abdo Benitez, who goes by the nickname “Marito”, has pledged to reform the judicial system to render it less prone to corruption, but to maintain Cartes’ economic policy.

The two adversaries agree on one point: they oppose the legalisation of abortion and gay marriage in the deeply conservative Catholic country.”I am for life. I am against abortion and its decriminalisation, in any case. Personally, I believe that nobody can take the place of God to decide on the life or death of a person,” Alegre told AFP in an interview.In addition to choosing a president, the electorate will also elect a new parliament and governors of the country’s 17 departments.”Paraguayan society is changing faster than its political elites, and there is a generation, which is becoming increasingly influential, which does not really remember the undemocratic regime. This is a first in the history of Paraguay,” said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas foundation in Sao Paulo, writing in Americas Quarterly.