On Thursday evening all of Paraguayan presidential candidates will be holding their final rallies after which begins a 48-hour ban of all electoral activities ahead of Sunday’s general election. Two candidates outstand in the dispute, Horacio Cartes from the Colorado party and Efrain Alegre from the ruling coalition headed by the Liberals.
Although public opinion polls in Paraguay are not known to be entirely reliable, particularly on approaching Election Day, among the last batch made public until April 6, (because there is a 15-day ban on releases previous to election day), Cartes and Alegre consolidated almost 70% of vote intention.
According to a poll released April 5 by the leading Asuncion daily ABC Color, based on data collected by First Analysis and Studies, businessman Cartes and one of the richest men of the country was leading with a vote intention of 37.6%, followed by the lawyer and former minister Efrain Alegre with 31.7%, . This meant that Cartes had a 5.9 percentage point lead.
However the Liberals managed to attract a dissident Colorado group, Unace belonging to former presidential hopeful, Lino Oviedo who died in a helicopter accident during the campaign trail. Unace according to that poll had been advancing and reached 7.1% in April from March’s 4%.
Mathematically this would mean that the Liberals together with Unace would be achieving on Sunday a technical draw with candidate Cartes based on adding Alegre’s 31.7% to the 7.1% of Unace. But politics don’t work out as simple maths.
The incumbent candidate Alegre, 50, is a lawyer with many years in politics who was Public Works minister under removed President Fernando Lugo until he was fired. Allegedly 25 million dollars went missing or did not figure in the auditing of the ministry on his departure.
He is also accused of buying a property belonging to deceased Lino Oviedo for 12 million dollars, considered excessive but also coincides with the announcement that his widow was joining forces with the Liberals.
Horacio Cartes is based on his official biography a self-made man with a vast empire of investments in different fields such as farming, grains storage, and construction and lately it surfaced overseas banking in tax havens at one time used to launder money.
Alegre and media reports link Cartes to narcotics, money laundering and Paraguay-Brazil border criminal gangs. He was actually photographed with a notorious mafia-chief from the Brazilian side.
According to ABC Color in 1995 Cartes set up the offshore Amambay Trust Bank in tax haven Cook Islands with several members of his family as board members of the new institution.
Both candidates obviously deny the accusations and argue they are only part of the competitors’ dirty-tricks campaign strategy.
Cartes Colorado Party has been hegemonic in Paraguay for the last seven decades, but in 2008 went divided to the polls and was defeated for the first time by a coalition organized by the Liberals and with former bishop Fernando Lugo as president.
Lugo was later removed following impeachment mainly because of ‘incompetence’ and was replaced by Federico Franco. For this Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur and Unasur.
Despite having lost in 2008, the Colorado party still has a strong hold on the three branches of government, the armed forces and the strong bureaucracy.