Pre-poll favorite Horacio Cartes, from the right-wing Colorado Party, has emerged victorious in Paraguay’s presidential election. Official results (with more than 99% of polling places counted) show him with 45.8% to 36.9% for the Liberal Party’s Efrain Alegre. Of the other nine candidates, the left’s Mario Ferreiro was the leader with 5.9%. Alegre conceded defeat this morning on the basis of the exit polls. (See my preview here.)

The previous election, in 2008, was seen as part of Latin America’s swing to the left, when retired priest Fernando Lugo became only the second leftist president in Paraguay’s history. But it ended badly; his policies were frustrated by the establishment and he was deserted by his coalition partners and then impeached last year. Paraguayans, it seems, have decided to return to the devil they know.

Cartes is a wealthy businessman who has only recently turned to politics. He has promised to reform the Colorado Party, traditionally the vehicle of the country’s wealthy elite, and he says he wants “to win the confidence of all Paraguayans.” But his background is somewhat murky, including time in jail in 1989 when accused of illegal currency dealings (of which he was later acquitted).

The elections were marred by petty corruption – the Guardian calls Paraguay “one of Latin America’s most corrupt nations” – but seem to be untainted by any large-scale fraud. It’s a sign of the growing political stability of Latin America that Paraguay has weathered the fall of Lugo without giving up on democracy.

As I’ve said a number of times, the fundamental proof of democracy is the ability to change government peacefully: everything else is just gravy.

The Colorados will not, however, have a majority in Congress. In the Senate, which is apparently a single proportional representation (D’Hondt) ballot across the whole country, the new president’s party looks like having 19 of the 45 seats, up four from its 2008 result. The Liberals should get 12 (down two), and the remaining 14 will be spread across half a dozen smaller parties, mostly of the left or centre-left.

The Chamber of Deputies, with 80 members, is elected by region so it’s harder to calculate, but expect the numbers there to be broadly similar.

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