Former Catholic bishop wins Paraguay's presidency

April 21, 2008|By McClatchy-Tribune

ASUNCION, Paraguay -- A former Roman Catholic Church bishop won a historic victory yesterday in this impoverished country's presidential election, ending the 61-year reign of the world's longest ruling party.

With 83 percent of polling stations reporting, Fernando Lugo received 40.7 percent of 1.57 million ballots cast. Running a distant second was former Education Minister Blanca Ovelar, the candidate of the long-ruling Colorado Party, who got 30.8 percent. Former general and ex-Colorado Lino Oviedo garnered 22 percent.

Joyous Lugo supporters lit firecrackers and filled the streets of Asuncion last night, as soon as exit polls indicating a Lugo win appeared. As victory became more certain, thousands more people poured into the streets, waving Paraguayan flags and chanting Lugo's name. Paraguayans living in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires danced in the streets to celebrate.

"Today, we can affirm that the little people are able to win," Lugo said to hundreds of frenzied supporters. "Equally, I want to tell you this is the Paraguay of our dreams, the Paraguay of many colors, the Paraguay of all faces, the Paraguay of everybody."

Yesterday's election ends a Colorado lock on power in this 6.8 million-person country that began in 1947, when the party seized control after a bloody civil war. The Colorado period also included the 35-year regime of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who was ousted in a 1989 coup.

Ovelar conceded defeat last night. "We recognize our defeat in the presidential race and we salute the candidacy of the Alliance [Lugo's coalition] and we inaugurate in Paraguay a time of reconciliation and construction, together with a destiny that Paraguay needs to affirm."

Lugo's victory adds to a regional trend of leftist, outsider leaders defeating longtime establishment governments in elections. The 56-year-old has pledged to more equitably distribute land and other resources to poor Paraguayans and is known as "the bishop of the poor." He has said, however, that he'll steer his own course and not ally with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce U.S. critic.

Lugo is scheduled to take office Aug. 15.

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