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Santiago Pena wins Paraguay vote, keeps rightwing party in power

ASUNCION (AFP) – Paraguayans on Sunday elected a president from the rightwing party in power for nearly eight decades, rejecting a centre-left challenger who had railed against endemic institutional corruption.

Economist and former finance minister Santiago Pena, 44, took the election with more than 42 per cent of the vote to continue the hegemony of the conservative Colorado Party, results showed.

Sixty-year-old challenger Efrain Alegre of the Concertacion centre-left coalition garnered nearly 27.5 per cent despite having gone into the vote with a narrow lead in opinion polls.

The outcome bucked a recent anti-incumbency trend in Latin American elections with voters repeatedly punishing establishment parties, often in favour of leftist rivals.

The Colorado Party has governed almost continually since 1947 – through a long and brutal dictatorship and since the return of democracy in 1989, but has been tainted by corruption claims. Pena’s political mentor, ex-president and Colorado Party leader Horacio Cartes, was recently sanctioned by the United States over graft.

Pena thanked Cartes in his first public address as president-elect for his “stubborn dedication to the party”, to loud cheers from supporters at party headquarters.

Conceding defeat, Alegre stated: “The effort was not enough.”

Around 4.8 million of Paraguay’s 7.5 million inhabitants were eligible to vote on Sunday for a replacement for President Mario Abdo Benitez, who is leaving office after a constitutionally limited single five-year term.

They also voted for new lawmakers, with the Colorado Party winning the highest share of the upper house Senate votes at 43 per cent.

Voting is mandatory in Paraguay, though only 63 per cent turned out.

Key issues for voters were endemic corruption, a spiralling crime problem and poverty.

Paraguayan presidential candidate for the Colorado Party, Santiago Peña celebrates with his wife, Leticia Ocampos de Pea and Paraguayan former president Horacio Cartes. PHOTO: AFP
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