Paraguay will not switch to the left. While the polls announced a close ballot, Santiago Peña, the candidate of the Colorado party (conservative), in power for seven decades in this South American country, largely won the presidential election on Sunday, April 30 against his main center-left rival, Efrain Alegre.
Santiago Peña, a 44-year-old economist, was declared the winner by the electoral court, with more than 42% of the vote, compared to 27.5% for Mr. Alegre, according to the count of 98% of the votes, in this one-man election. single turn. This former finance minister, close to former president Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), will succeed Mario Abdo Benitez in August for five years. In Paraguay, the president cannot run for immediate re-election.
Shortly before the officialization of the result, Santiago Peña had proclaimed his victory, promising the Paraguayans to “banish the fatalism that condemns us to our present. We are masters of our destiny, of our future." Social issues and the distribution of wealth were a strong theme of the campaign, in an agro-exporting country with enviable prosperity in Latin America (4.5% growth expected in 2023), but with glaring inequalities (24.7% poor), and the notoriously weak public health system. But the "pink" wave that for the past five years has seen alternations from Mexico to Chile, from Colombia to Brazil has not reached Paraguay.
The weight of a third candidate, antisystem
For weeks, the polls had given Santiago Peña and Efrain Alegre in a rare neck and neck for Paraguay, where the Colorado party has dominated political life almost continuously for 76 years, apart from a brief parenthesis on the left under Fernando Lugo between 2008 and 2012.
An "anti-system" candidate, Paraguayo Cubas, with a virulent anti-parliamentary and anti-official rhetoric, comes in 3rd position, collecting more than 22% of the votes. "He took votes from both sides, but the most aggrieved are the opponents of the Concertacion" of Alegre, according to political analyst Roberto Codas, interviewed by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Passed by the IMF, Santiago Peña asserted himself during the campaign in tune with the "conservative society" of Paraguay, 90% Catholic. He, like his opponent, had expressed their opposition to marriage for all and abortion.
Affable smile, youthful features barely betrayed by a touch of gray at the temples, Mr. Peña describes himself as a man of listening and responsibility, and often cites his young fatherhood, at 17, as a determining factor in his life, which drove him to study hard, work early, and "want to serve." “It was a really difficult time (…) which helped me to appreciate the values that I had received. Reading, writing, history, math, we learn at school. But values, we learn them at home, ”he explained to Agence France-Presse this week.
Passed by the IMF
Juggling with his wife between university and guards, Santiago Peña trained as an economist in Asuncion, then in public administration at Columbia (New York) thanks to a scholarship. At 22, he joined the Central Bank of Paraguay, at 31 at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, then at 34 on the board of the Central Bank of his country.
Although long affiliated with the Liberal Party (center-left), Santiago Peña was Minister of Finance (2015-2017) in the government of Horacio Cartes, of rival Colorado, where he will end up enlisting in 2016. Pure careerism, according to its detractors.
It is also actively supported by Horacio Cartes that Mr. Peña this time won the Colorado primaries, after his failure in 2018. Which earned him the quip of "puppet", or "chili" (servant, in Guarani ) of the wealthy ex-president. During the campaign, he attempted to distance himself from international opprobrium over Horacio Cartes, which Washington in 2022 called "significantly corrupt" and slapped with bans on entry or transactions in the United States.
A party tainted by corruption
During the campaign, the left-wing candidate, Efrain Alegre, had posed as a slayer of what he calls the Colorado patronage "mafia" "linked to organized crime", a system now "collapsed", according to him. Paraguay is ranked 137th out of 180 in the corruption perception ranking of the NGO Transparency International.
Sunday evening while proclaiming his victory, Santiago Peña nevertheless appeared alongside Mr. Cartes, and thanked him for this "great victory for Colorado, great victory for Paraguay".
Inequalities and poverty will be a major domestic challenge for the young president, who has focused his campaign on jobs – he promises 500,000 creations – and better access to public health, stricken.
Externally, he assured that his proximity to Horacio Cartes would not affect the privileged relationship that Paraguay has with the United States. Moreover, while he does not intend to question Asuncion's relations with Taipei - Paraguay is one of the 13 states in the world that recognizes Taiwan - he did, however, say that he would transfer the Paraguayan embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Cartes had already done so in 2018, before his successor reversed this transfer a few months later.