Paraguayans head to the polls this Sunday to elect their next president amid a tightening in the race between the two main candidates, Horacio Cartes of the Partido Colorado (The Colorado Party–PC) and Efraín Alegre of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (The Liberal Party—PLRA). Cartes leads Alegre by nearly six percentage points (37.6 percent support versus 31.7 percent) in an April 5 public opinion survey conducted by First Análisis y Estudios. This is the last poll to be released prior to the election as election law prohibits voter surveys within 15 days of a vote.
Either candidate would inherit a country still trying to move past the impeachment last year of former President Fernando Lugo.
Cartes is a political newcomer and millionaire who is trying to put the Colorado Party back in power after its six decades of uninterrupted rule was broken by the 2008 election of former President Lugo. Despite having lost in 2008, the Colorado Party still maintains a strong grip on the three branches of government. Alegre is a long-time politician and attorney who served as Lugo’s public works minister.
Throughout the campaign both candidates have been accused of corruption, however no charges have been formally brought against them. Cartes faces accusations of tax evasion, money laundering and trafficking contraband, and Cartes claims that Alegre embezzled $25 million upon his departure from the ministry of public works and “handles public money as it were private.” Both deny the allegations.
Paraguay’s membership in Mercosur and Unasur was suspended last year after Lugo’s impeachment, saying there was a “rupture in the democratic process.” Both candidates would look to quickly rejoin both blocs. Although nearly 40 percent of Paraguayans live in poverty, the economy is projected to increase by 13 percent—due to record soybean production—after having contracted by 1.2 percent last year.
According to data from the Justicia Electoral (Electoral Justice), approximately 3.6 million Paraguayans are eligible to vote in the general elections this Sunday, of which 21,981 are enrolled abroad.
Voters in Ecuador on Sunday will decide whether to give President Rafael Correa of the PAIS Alliance (Alianza Patria Altiva y Soberana - Alianza PAIS) another term on Sunday, with the latest opinion polls giving him a 40 percentage point lead over his opponents for the presidential election. Of his seven challengers, Correa’s closest opponent is Guillermo Lasso Mendoza from the 21 Believe (21 CREO) political party. Lasso Mendoza is a former executive of Banco de Guayaquil and has promised to lower taxes on job creation and abolish a 5 percent tax on capital that has discouraged foreign investments and weakened the banks.
Correa’s 56 percent approval rating can be attributed to policies such as low-interest rates for first-time homeowners, free school supplies and uniforms for children, medical care at public hospitals for the poor, and welfare compensation reaching nearly 1 in five Ecuadoreans—or 1.9 million people including single mothers, the elderly and low-income families. They receive $50 a month from the state, which is largely possible due to the nation’s oil wealth.
Since Correa assumed office in 2007 the unemployment rate dropped from 9.82 to 4.71 percent and the economy has had robust performance, with 5.6 percent GDP growth last year While lower-income populations have benefited from increased social programs, journalists have faced criminal charges under Correa. A number of state news media have fallen under his leadership which now includes five television stations, four radio stations, two newspapers, and four magazines--up from one radio station previously. The Indigenous community has also protested against the government’s failure to consult with native people over water rights and its insistence on paving the way for large-scale precious metals mining.
To win the Presidential election on Sunday, Correa needs at least half the valid votes cast or 40 percent of the vote, plus a 10 percentage-point lead over the second-place candidate to be elected in the first round. If no candidate receives the requisite number of votes, a second-round election will be held April 7 between the top two candidates. The National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) will publish partial voting results after polls close on February 17.