A proposal to allow Paraguayans living abroad to vote in national elections at home won overwhelmingly, 90%, in a Sunday referendum, but turnout was minimum, just 10% of the electoral role.
The referendum which is seen as an electoral “protocol” should now open the way for the Paraguayan Congress to discuss the issue that would ultimately be introduced as an amendment to the country’s constitution.
It is estimated that 500.000 to 700.000 Paraguayans living abroad will finally register in the electoral roll that currently has approximately 3 million listed out of a total population of 7 million.
President Fernando Lugo described Sunday’s vote as a historic civil rights day which opened the doors to all Paraguayans that “have seen their rights to decide on the future of their country, delayed”.
“From government we’ve made the greatest efforts to manage the greatest attendance possible in a context which was estimated of scarce participation. Maybe there will be time to assess or maybe the conscious of each political and social groping will help to discern the emphasis which has been committed to the issues, contrary to the beauty of previous speeches”.
According to international observers from the Organization of American States, OAS, “all ballot stations opened on time with all the necessary materials to guarantee the development of the plebiscite”. The overall electoral day evolved normally with no incidents reported, said the OAS rapporteurs.
Paraguay saw an estimated 1.5 million citizens flee during a 1954-89 dictatorship, and the outflow has remained strong under democracy due to economic reasons. More than half a million Paraguayans live abroad out of a population of about six million. Most of them are in Argentina, followed by Spain and the US.
Groups representing migrants have been pressing for the right to vote.
The ban on Paraguayans voting if they live abroad dates back to the constitution of 1992, which was introduced after democracy.
Giving the vote to ex-pats is a controversial issue since in some countries the overseas vote could potentially, decide national elections.