ON THEME OF ‘CHANGE’
Fresh, Obama-like ex-Catholic bishop
wins Paraguay presidency in landslide …
FORMER Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo of Paraguay beats former education minister Blanca Ovelar in the national election for president of the Latin American state.
… beats experienced, Clinton-like lady
ASUNCION – Former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won a historic victory in Paraguay’s presidential election Sunday, ending more than six decades of one-party rule with a mandate to help the nation’s poor and indigenous.
His rival, , conceded defeat after a closely fought race to lead this poor, agrarian nation where Ovelar’s Colorado Party is the only ruling party most people have ever known.
Ovelar, a former education minister and protege of outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, conceded that she had lost after initially disputing exit poll results. She would have been Paraguay’s first female president.
News of the win by the gray-bearded Lugo, dubbed the “bishop of the poor,” set off massive parties in cities across with horn-honking caravans of cars blaring music. Others stamped on torn-down banners of the Colorado Party, which many Paraguayans blame for decades of corruption by political elites.
The triumph by Lugo’s eclectic opposition alliance also marked the latest in a series of electoral wins by leftist, or center-left, leaders in South America.
“You have decided what has to be done in . You have decided to be a free . Thank you, thank you, all of you!” Lugo, 56, told tens of thousands of supporters in downtown , as fireworks burst under a full moon. “Today, we have written a new chapter in our nation’s political history.”
Journalism student Andrea Ramirez, 19, waved a red-white-and-blue Paraguayan flag at the rally. “I voted for the first time and am very happy. The shameless and cynical ones have lost.”
With about 13,000 of 14,000 balloting stations counted, officials said Lugo had 41 percent of the vote, Ovelar had 31 percent and former army chief Lino Oviedo had 22 percent. Minor candidates accounted for the remaining votes.
“The outcome is irreversible,” Ovelar, 50, said on national television five hours after polls closed following largely peaceful voting. Election officials said Sunday’s voting had the highest turnout – about 66 percent – of any presidential election since the end of the 35-year dictatorship of the late Gen. .
Lugo’s triumph broke the Party’s legendarily long grip on power, which began in 1947, before even the communist parties in or came to power.
In Paraguay’s long-volatile politics, Lugo still awaited final official returns confirming his landmark triumph, which would make him he first former Catholic bishop elected as a president.
News broadcasts showed two minor scuffles outside polling places Sunday, but officials said voting was without serious incidents.
The Colorado Party had long stayed in power thanks to an extensive party apparatus and hundreds of thousands of loyal government civil servants. But eight months ago, Lugo welded leftist unions, Indians and poor farmers into a coalition with Paraguay’s main opposition party: the conservative Authentic Radical Party.
Lugo, who often wears sandals and farmers’ hats, then launched a charismatic campaign in which he blamed Paraguay’s economic woes on decades of corruption by an elite that ruled at the expense of the poor in a country of subsistence farmers.
A bishop since 1994, he resigned the post in December 2006 to sidestep Paraguay’s constitutional ban on clergy seeking office. Lugo says he was influenced by the frowned upon by the . But he says he is neither on the left nor the right, but leads a pluralistic coalition.
Recently, left or center-left governments have come to power in , , , , , and .
Economist Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research said Lugo’s win shows how deep these changes sweeping South America really are.
‘Democracy has taken root’
“If a candidate of the left, clearly identified with the poor, can break the grip of the longest-ruling party in the world – and a right-wing party at that – it shows how much South America has changed and how democracy has taken root,” he said.
Lugo has distanced himself from the region’s more radical leaders, such as Venezuela’s .
“Chavez is a military man and I have a religious background,” Lugo told reporters in last year. “My candidacy has arisen at the request of the people, it was born in a different way than ’s.”
Fueling Lugo’s campaign was voter disenchantment with 13 percent joblessness in South America’s poorest country after , as some 43 percent of the 6.5 million Paraguayans live in poverty.
Paraguayans were also voting to seat a 45-member Senate, an 80-member lower House of Deputies and 17 governors.
EX-BISHOP and now President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay
DEFEATED administration candidate Blanca Ovelar
60 yrs of 1-party rule
ends in Latino state
ASUNCION – One candidate is a former bishop who has cast himself as a Paraguayan David fighting a “monstrous Goliath” in a bid to end 61 years of one-party rule.
His rival earlier wanted to become the nation’s first female president, and the Colorado Party where she belong had endured through democracy and dictatorship in this poor, agrarian South American nation, but has been in power even longer than ’s Communist Party.
Hoping to end the party’s six-decade run before the results came out is former Roman Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo, sometimes called “the bishop of the poor,” who several polls have shown narrowly leading candidate as well as former army chief Lino Cesar .
Eight months ago, Lugo welded leftist unions, Indians and poor farmers into a coalition with ’s main opposition party to form the Patriotic Alliance for Change.
Lugo, 56, then launched a charismatic campaign in which he blamed ’s deep-seated economic woes on decades of corruption by elites who ruled at the expense of the poor in a country of subsistence farmers.
“Now is the hour of change! Don’t be afraid!” the gray-bearded priest shouted in both Spanish and the Guarani Indian language at a recent rally, at which he quoted from the Bible and wore sandals.
And his Patriotic Alliance for Change has succeeded in mounting the most serious challenge to the Colorado Party since democratic elections returned after the country’s 35-year military dictatorship ended in 1989.
At a rally outside , he likened himself to a “Paraguayan David fighting the monstrous Goliath.”
Fueling his charge is voter disenchantment with 13 percent joblessness in South America’s poorest country after .
Some 43 percent of the 6.5 million Paraguayans live in poverty, and many survive on a meal a day. Thousands have fled to for work.
Ovelar, a 50-year-old former education minister nominated by outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, earlier countered that she would be a bold reformer of her own feud-riven party, modernizing the landlocked, agrarian nation.
She had promised to bring a woman’s sensibility to a “clearly macho country” whose sporadic political unrest has shaken its fragile democracy since 1989.
She earlier called Lugo a “failed priest” unfaithful to the , which refuses to recognize his resignation. Lugo resigned as bishop in December 2006 to sidestep ’s constitutional ban on clergy seeking office.
“If this is how he is with God, how will he be with the Paraguayan people?” she earlier asked supporters.
Ovelar earlier promised a more centrist government than the left-leaning women presidents elected in and since 2005.