By Alexia Rauen
Paraguay’s political system has long been dominated by the Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana – Partido Colorado, ANR-PC). The Colorado Party is pro-West, and has historically – and into present day – restricted civil liberties and stifled opposition parties. This party stems from a brutal 35-year long dictatorship under military leader Alfredo Stroessner, and has retained power for 61 years, controlling the parliament even when Stroessner was removed by a coup in 1989. The Colorado Party has consistently held the presidency except for a brief stint from 2008-2012, which ended in impeachment. The party also holds a majority in the larger branch of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, and a near-majority in the Senate.
Paraguay’s presidential and congressional elections will be held April 22, 2018. Earlier in 2017, Horacio Cartes, the current president, attempted to alter the constitution to allow himself to run for reelection. Cartes’ attempt was supported by his Colorado Party as well as opposition parties, including that of the impeached former president, possibly in hopes he could win the election in 2018 if allowed to run again. However, it also led to widespread protest, with opponents setting the congressional building on fire, driving Cartes to abandon his attempt at legalizing reelection.
Primary elections were held in December 2017 to choose the presidential candidates of the major political parties. Senator Mario Abdo Benitez won the primary over Cartes’ handpicked choice, Santiago Peña, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Abdo’s win was possibly related to the re-election controversy, which Peña supported amending so that Cartes could run again in the future. Abdo favors reelection but appears not to favor Cartes running again. Regardless, the Colorado Party’s entrenchment in politics is clear: Abdo, the Colorado Party’s candidate, is the child of Stroessner’s secretary.
Abdo’s main opponent comes from Efrain Alegre, who ran back in 2013 against Cartes. Alegre and his candidate for vice president, Leo Rubin, come from a coalition party. Alegre is of the Liberal Party, whereas Rubin is of the Guasu Front, therefore the candidates will be running under the GANAR alliance. Americas Quarterly identifies Alegre as center-right, whereas Abdo would be considered far right.
Paraguay’s government is plagued by high levels of corruption and impunity. Transparency International gives Paraguay a score of 29, (the scale is from 0 to 100 with 0 most corrupt and 100 least corrupt) ranking it 135 out of 180 nations (with nation 1 the least corrupt and nation 180 the most corrupt). Statistics from 2013, following the most recent elections, indicate that only 50% of the Paraguayan population believes democracy is the best form of government and 34% believes authoritarian government is the best form of government.
In the 2013 election, Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party received 46% of the vote against 37% for Efrain Alegre of the Liberal Party. If this election is any indication, Paraguayans appear to be relatively unswayed by political scandals that might hold heavier weight in other nations. Cartes was elected even though he had been investigated for drug trafficking, spent time in jail, was accused of both currency fraud and tax evasion, and has made publicly homophobic statements. On the other hand, during the 2013 election, Alegre was also accused of mismanagement of public funds – “buy[ing] an electoral alliance.” The opposition in this election has focused on reminding the public of Abdo’s connection to the previous dictatorship. It has been argued that some Paraguayans “may be disillusioned” and that “many say they will cast their ballots according to old loyalties.” This voting pattern calls to mind Brazil, where corruption allegations are commonplace among any and all political candidates, making it difficult to know how voters reconcile this when corruption affects candidates across the board.
The Colorado Party’s candidate, Abdo, has the support of the country’s soy farmers, and was a senator in 2013 and president of the Senate in 2015. The Guardian noted that “the chances of smaller party candidates…to make a breakthrough appear slim” and cited Peter Lambert, a scholar on Paraguay, who stated that the Colorado party has “nearly two million … members, a support base that is the result of ‘patronage and clientelism’” and that “’access to opportunity in Paraguay still comes from allegiance to the Colorado Party.’” Given the current political climate, the expectation for the Colorado Party to win the presidency prevails. Moreover, polls from March of this year put Abdo Benitez in the lead. While the rest of the world watches the tumultuous leadership changes occurring globally, Paraguay is likely to continue along on a familiar trajectory with its Colorado Party in power.