Leading political analysts with close knowledge of Paraguay’s electoral dynamics argued that the 2023 presidential election would be very close. Surveys presented by several polling institutes cast doubt on whether the Colorado Party would remain in power for another 5 years, maintaining a seven-decade hegemony, or whether it would leave a window of opportunity for another political group.
With almost all the votes counted by the country’s electoral authority, the final result has been defined: With a landslide victory, of more than 15 percentage points, the Colorado Party candidate, Santiago Peña, will be the Paraguayans’s ruler for another presidential term.
Peña defeated a very heterogeneous group – the Concertación Nacional – which had the former Paraguayan federal deputy Efraín Alegre as its candidate. By winning the right to stay in the López Palace – the seat of the country’s presidency – the conservative, former Economy Minister, seals his party’s great capacity for national victories.
The Colorado Party had as one of its main exponents dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay for almost 35 years, standing as one of the longest-lived rulers in Latin America. Since 1989, when democracy returned to Paraguayan life, the same party has won every election, except for the victory of President Lugo, who ruled the country from 2008 to 2012 and was prevented from continuing his mandate by a decision of the Paraguayan National Legislature.
Although the new president is considered a politician without much administrative experience, it is known his strong ties with former president Horacio Cartes, who ruled the country between 2013 and 2018 and was considered a controversial name due to several political and economic scandals involving his actions in the country.
In the face of the criticisms presented recently, which could be to the advantage of his opponents, Peña has sought to present himself as a candidate independent of his main supporter. Owner of very conservative discourse, the new president will face a complicated context to overcome. Recently, the Paraguayan economy has presented results that have put the country’s authorities in a state of great concern. The population suffers from such negative economic indicators.
It is important to highlight that, although he was defeated in the electoral race on April 30, 2023, the right-wing leader Payo Cubas (National Crusade Party) also presented himself as a candidate who surpassed all the exceptions directed at him. Presenting himself as an anti-system representative, Cubas was, in some circumstances, compared to Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. By winning 23% of the valid votes, the candidate raised the alarm that the right is not suffocated in Latin America and that there are chances to increase political polarization in the country in the coming years.
Furthermore, two relevant points in Paraguay’s foreign policy are evident, which will be the topic of the new president’s decision. The first one refers to the reconfiguration of the Treaty signed in 1973 between Brazil and Paraguay regarding the Itaipu Power Plant. Peña will have to negotiate new terms of the agreement with Lula, Brazil’s President, who was one of the first to congratulate the elected candidate on his victory.
The second topic concerns the Paraguayan position of being the only country in South America to legitimize Taiwan’s demands, positioning itself against the domination of the island by the Chinese. With Peña, this decision should be maintained and could hinder China’s trade flows with Paraguayans and other trade partners.
Paraguay is a signatory to the Mercosur Treaty – the Asunción Treaty – and collectively negotiates with Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina a series of extra-bloc trade agreements. Although Peña is not a critic of the partnership that has lasted more than 30 years, the bloc’s projections may vary depending on the guidelines that will be established by the new government.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva