A Catholic bishop who resigned to run for president of Paraguay has formally launched his campaign for an April 2008 election, but only some 200 people showed up at his campaign kickoff.
Fernando Lugo, who is challenging six decades of one-party rule in Paraguay, which included the nearly four-decade reign of Dictator Alfredo Stroessner, was cheered Sunday by a small crowd in Villa Hayes, a town west of Asunción. Lugo, who resigned as bishop in December to avoid Paraguay's constitutional ban on clergy seeking office, has the support of Paraguay's main opposition party, the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, and a host of peasant, labor and social groups. But critics said the small turnout underscored friction with two other opposition parties that have refused to unite behind Lugo's campaign. Nonetheless, Lugo gained significant organizational support when he agreed in June to accept a running mate from the Radical Liberals, which have spent decades, challenging Colorado rule and can help finance and mount a nationwide campaign. President Nicanor Duarte of the Colorado Party has threatened to challenge Lugo's candidacy in court, citing the prohibition on clerics participating in politics and noting that the Church does not accept Lugo's resignation. Former education minister Blanca Ovelar is the Colorado's candidate. Like many Paraguayans, Lugo blames the Colorados for the struggling economy, rampant corruption and politics that favor rich elites.