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Conservative Abdo Benitez wins Paraguay presidency

Conservative Abdo Benitez wins Paraguay presidency

Conservative Abdo Benitez wins Paraguay presidency
April 23
09:50 2018

Paraguay’s Mario Abdo Benitez, who represents the country’s long-dominant Colorado conservatives, has been elected president, landing the top job in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.

The US-educated son of a senior aide to late dictator Alfredo Stroessner won slightly more than 46 percent of the vote, with his centrist opponent Efrain Alegre taking almost 43 percent in a race that was far closer than expected.

Abdo Benitez, 46, is succeeding the outgoing conservative President Horacio Cartes.

Despite a slow start, turnout stood at 65 percent by the time polling stations closed at 4:00 p.m. (2000 GMT). As the counting got underway, it quickly became clear the race would be much closer than expected.

Landlocked Paraguay — sandwiched between Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil — has enjoyed consistent economic growth under tobacco magnate Cartes, but has failed to shake off persistent poverty, corruption and drug trafficking.

It remains a land of contrasts, still marked by the 1954-1989 dictatorship of General Stroessner.

However, a new generation of voters among the electorate of 4.2 million — born after the dictatorship responsible for the deaths or disappearances of up to 3,000 people — seems ready to look to the future.

People queue to vote at a polling station in Asuncion, on April 22, 2018, during Paraguay's presidential election. (Photo by AFP)

In Paraguay, 43 percent of the population is aged between 18 and 34.

Ahead of the vote, Abdo Benitez appeared confident that his background would not affect his chances.

“I have earned my democratic credentials on my political journey,” he said.

But Alegre had banked on people voting for change after almost 70 years of dominance by the ruling Colorado party.

Voters also cast their ballots for a new parliament and governors of the country’s 17 departments.

Abdo Benitez, who goes by the nickname “Marito,” has pledged to reform the judicial system to render it less prone to corruption, but to maintain Cartes’ economic policy.

Alegre, the outsider at the head of the centrist GANAR alliance, had offered free health care for the poor and to slash the cost of electricity to stimulate investment and jobs.

But the only time the country had a president who did not come from the Colorado party was in 2008-2012, when former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo ruled.

(Source: AFP)

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