On 30 April 2023, the results of the Paraguayan general elections were declared. Colorado party candidate Santiago Peña and his Vice Presidential candidate Pedro Alliana won the election beating Paraguayo Cubas and the Concertación candidate Efraín Alegre. Peña will take office later this year on 15 August 2023. He won with 43% of the vote. The conservative, right-wing Colorado party continues to rule Paraguay despite a stagnant economy and major allegations of corruption. The Colorado Party also won heavily in congressional and governor races, consolidating its power.
Who is Santiago Peña?
Santiago Peña is a Paraguayan economist. Peña was a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Paraguay. He started his career as a member of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party from 1996 to 2016 before joining the Colorado Party. Peña has opposed the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage and promised to create 500,000 jobs without raising any taxes.
While the election results demonstrate the Colorado Party’s continued dominance, there has also been a strong shift towards outsider candidates in Latin America. Paraguayo Cubas, an outsider in the political arena, secured almost a quarter of the vote, coming in third place. This suggests that the people are frustrated with the mainstream parties.
The Colorado Party ruled Paraguay as the only legal party from 1947 to 1962. It has also controlled the presidency since 1948 almost exclusively, except for 2008 and 2013.
The opposition is the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico, PLRA), a coalition of centre and left parties in Paraguay. Since 1989, the PLRA has been the primary opposition to the Colorado Party. However, the alliance fell apart after their only presidential candidate, Lugo, was impeached in 2012, and the PLRA has been in opposition since 2013. The Colorado Party and the PLRA are the two major establishment parties. The PLRA has been criticized for not having a clear political programme and is dominated by internal factionalism based on a network of locally powerful personalities.
The Last Time Paraguay Elected A Left Leader
The only time Paraguay had a left-wing President was from 2008-2012. Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez was the only non-Colorado Party leader of Paraguay in the past 75 years. He was originally a Catholic bishop and served as President of Paraguay from 2008 to 2012. Before entering politics, Lugo was a Roman Catholic priest and bishop and served as Bishop of the Diocese of San Pedro from 1994 to 2005. His presidential election in 2008 ended 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party.
Lugo was known as “the bishop of the poor.” He entered the national political arena by supporting peasant claims for better land distribution. Despite his left-wing politics at home, he distanced himself from the other leftist leaders in Latin America. Lugo led a coalition of opposition parties and social movements in 2008 called the Patriotic Alliance for Change. As president, Lugo prioritized tackling corruption and encouraging land reform, implementing initiatives to improve the lives of Paraguay’s poor, such as low-income housing investments, free treatment in public hospitals, and cash transfers for impoverished citizens.
The legality of Lugo’s candidacy was questioned due to the Paraguayan Constitution’s prohibition of clerics holding elective office, and the then Pope Benedict XVI’s rejection of Lugo’s resignation from the priesthood. However, the Pope eventually removed Lugo from the clergy in July 2008.
Lugo was already impeached and removed from office by the Congress of Paraguay in June 2012. Lugo said that he was denied due process as he did not have enough time to prepare a defence. Several Latin American governments considered the impeachment as a coup d’état. Lugo himself formally accepted the impeachment but referred to it as a parliamentary coup.
The impeachment followed an incident on 15 June 2012 involving a police operation to evict landless farmers, which led to the death of six police officers and eleven farmers. Many countries criticized Lugo’s removal from office, comparing it to a coup d’état. Some countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, withdrew their ambassadors to Paraguay in response.
Following the impeachment of Lugo, the PLRA has had difficulty maintaining a clear and consistent platform. This is owing to the vast difference within the Paraguan Parliamentary left, which often can be centred around individuals.
A Tale Of Two Rights?
The Colorado Party secured victory in the recent election, but it was their weakest performance since 2003. This outcome reflects a growing trend of anti-establishment populism on the right in Paraguay, demonstrated by the strong showing of candidate Cubas. Paraguayans are increasingly frustrated with crime, corruption, and traditional politicians, creating opportunities for alternative political forces.
The left in Paraguay continues to struggle with establishing a cohesive platform to rally the people, contributing to its inability to capitalize on the current frustrations. As a result, Paraguay may lean towards the anti-establishment right in the coming years.
International media has framed the election around Paraguay’s stance on Taiwan and China, which will have significant implications for the nation’s trade future, economy, and international relations. President-elect Peña aims to maintain ties with Taiwan, while his opponent, Alegre, advocates for developing connections with China. The outcome of this election and the subsequent direction of Paraguay’s foreign policy will be instrumental in shaping the country’s future in a rapidly evolving global landscape.
If things continue like this, it is possible that Paraguay will go through a phase, where its political leadership will be stunt-driven reactionary right-wing politicians, as was seen in the USA, India, and Italy. There does not appear to be a strong cohesive left-wing presence in the country on the scale of Peru, Chile or Brazil. Most people see political leadership as corrupt but do not see any viable alternatives. In the one case, where they got a competent leftist leader, the political elite conspired to depose him making the traditional right-wing Colorado Party the best option for the time being.