Political tensions in Paraguay linger ahead of next year’s elections

Latin America

Paraguay President Horacio Cartes talks to Congress members about state of the country in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Paraguay is set to elect a new president next year, but the transfer of power may not go so smoothly.

Current president Horacio Cartes ignited a constitutional crisis in March, when he tried to get parliamentary approval to run for re-election. While that issue has closed, the tension has yet to ease.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports from Asuncion.

In late March, protesters attacked Parliament, breaking windows, ransacking offices  and setting fires.

The violence was sparked by President Cartes’ move to lift term limits and run for reelection next year. Just days later, Cartes announced he would abandon his re-election ambitions, and the parliamentary measure on term limits was voted down.

The political climate calmed afterwards. Political parties have already started to prepare for the presidential election set for next April. Politicians have said that much remains simmering under the surface.

One senator from the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party blames Carte’s government for the tension.

“I think there is tension because President Horacio Cartes has practice of favoring confrontation rather than dialogue. He doesn’t try to seek collaboration and understand but to push his own rules, as he tried to do recently with the reelection amendment,” Senator Carlos Amarilla said.

Another member from the governing Colorado Party and close ally of President Cartes said the responsibility is with the opposition.

“The violent ones are the minority groups. You can see here in the Senate how they obstruct everything, trying to impose the will of the minority. This is not democratic,” Senator Juan Monges said.

Former leftist president and now senator Fernando Lugo was ousted in a much questioned impeachment process in 2012. Lugo said opposition forces may be able to take back the country’s seat of power, if they can reach consensus among themselves.

“I am a man of hope. I trust progressive forces will return to power in Paraguay. Because these forces have lost the power on one hand but not on the other. We may not have the administration of the State, but left-wing social and activist groups like students, peasants and trade unions are out there fighting for what they believe,” Lugo said.

Marcos Caceres, a politics correspondent for ABC Color Newspaper, agreed with the near-unanimous view of analysts that the governing Colorado Party is most likely to win next year’s elections.

“Right now the political environment seems very favorable for the governing Colorado Party because if the opposition is not united it’s very unlikely they will have any success. And right now the opposition is extremely divided and seem unable able to agree on a viable candidate,” Caceres said.

Paraguayan political parties are now preparing for the 2018 elections by negotiating, building alliances and choosing their candidates. Even so, the damage inflicted to the Senate building remains as a reminder that the risk of a return to political violence cannot be totally ruled out.

Carlos Gomez Florentin on the political situation in Paraguay

To talk about Paraguay’s political and economic situation, CGTN’s Asieh Namder spoke with Carlos Gomez Florentin from Paraguay’s capital city. He’s a professor of politics and history at the Catholic University of Asuncion.