Bureaucrats reelect Red Party in Paraguay
Corruption scandals were not enough to end long governing streak.
Mario Canseco For 56 consecutive years, the Partido Colorado (ANR—Red Party) has ruled Paraguay, electing leaders and backing military dictators with the same ease.
For 56 consecutive years, the Partido Colorado (ANR—Red Party) has ruled Paraguay, electing leaders and backing military dictators with the same ease. Nicanor Duarte—a former education minister and journalist—will extend that legacy, after winning the presidential election last month.
For its impressive track record, the Red Party has had its share of scandals. The 35-year dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner turned Paraguay into a safe-haven for Nazi war criminals. Stroessner was then overthrown by his in-law, Andrés Rodrguez, who then called an election and won a full term amid allegations of massive electoral fraud. Then came Juan Carlos Wasmosy, who endured an attempted coup by army general Lino Oviedo. The last elected president—Raºl Cubas—fled the country along with Oviedo after both were accused of masterminding the murder of vice-president Luis Mara Argaña.
As if these problems were not enough, the Red Party’s ability to remain in power becomes more astounding after recent events. Outgoing president Luis Gonz¡lez Macchi barely avoided impeachment, after being accused of funneling $16 million U.S. from the Paraguayan Central Bank to a personal account in the United States. Gonz¡lez Macchi escaped because congressional leaders did not want to create a crisis scenario prior to the vote. Economic problems have also plagued the country, the second poorest in South America after Bolivia. A third of all Paraguayans live below the poverty line, and unemployment figures range from 18 to 35 per cent, depending on the source.
Transparency International regards Paraguay as the most corrupt country in Latin America, but international observers say the election was clean. Anti-fraud voting booths imported from Brazil were used, and aside from language difficulties, few people complained.
Infighting and setbacks among opposition parties are partly to blame for the Red Party’s victory. Julio César Franco of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA—Authentic Liberal Radical Party) ran what may be considered as one of the unluckiest campaigns in recent memory. Franco was accidentally shot in the foot by one of his bodyguards and then fractured a leg, causing him to miss some stops. Businessman Pedro Fadul, an outsider who vowed to end corruption, never quite rallied the electorate. The exiled Oviedo ran a party from Brazil, but his candidate could not get more than 15 per cent of the vote. A much anticipated opposition alliance never materialized.
But incapable adversaries are not enough for a winning streak. As has been the case in Paraguay for years, the president was elected by bureaucrats. State workers and employees make up 40 per cent of Paraguay’s voting population, and Duarte finished the election with almost 39 per cent of the total vote. The numbers are too similar to be brushed aside as a mere coincidence.
Latin American election results have long depended on votes from government employees. The Red Party will keep banking on votes from its own people to remain at the helm, but recent studies suggest this trend may be changing. A poll by Mexican newspaper Reforma shows that current state employees are less likely to back the party in power than ever before. Mexican bureaucrats were concerned over massive firings when the federal government changed hands in 2000, but know three years later that their fears were unfounded.
Duarte’s tenure will be decisive for the future of the country. South Americans have a tendency to become disheartened with their governments, and yearn for losing opposition candidates. Such was the case with Alejandro Toledo in Peru and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, who came back to hold office. Franco or Fadul could be next.