Corruption-dominated Paraguay election buildup and Taiwan 2023

Asuncion, Paraguay’s tropical capital near the Argentine border, is preparing for Sunday’s election with the economy, corruption, and Taiwan in mind.

The farming nation of just under 7 million people will vote in a close race between the slick, 44-year-old economist Santiago Pena representing the incumbent conservative Colorado Party and the 60-year-old political veteran Efrain Alegre leading a broad center-left coalition and promising a foreign policy overhaul.

Pollsters predict a close race. The Colorado Party has ruled Paraguay for 75 years, save for five. But corruption allegations have weakened their support.

“We never talked about politics before, because a win for the Colorado Party was a done deal,” 40-year-old banker Gustavo Vera told Reuters in the capital. “There’s an air of change, the people have woken up.”

Cheaper, better schools

Most at Asuncion’s Mercado 4 street market blamed the economy. Last year, the fiscal deficit reached 3% of GDP, average annual growth dropped to 0.7%, and extreme poverty increased.

“We’re going backwards,” said 32-year-old Nicolas Ortigoza, who sold chicken skewers at his kiosk. “Paraguay has more corruption than work… I only know we must work harder to make ends meet.”

After a spending spree to combat the COVID-19 epidemic and Ukraine invasion, the newly elected legislature may compel the August president to cut spending. Alegre promises lower energy bills and Pena more jobs.

“Whoever wins is going to have to limit public spending because debt cannot continue to grow,” economist and former finance minister Cesar Barreto told Reuters, calling it a “complex” era for any incoming government.

The controversy over abandoning long-term diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China and graft allegations against prominent Colorado Party leaders have dominated political newscasts and articles.

This year, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned party leader Horacio Cartes and Vice President Hugo Velazquez for “rampant corruption.” Both deny charges.

Noise is swaying some voters.

“We’ve lived for too long with corruption, poverty, hidden drug trafficking and negligent healthcare,” said 19-year-old student Eiden Malky, who is voting for the first time.

The Colorados are unpopular. We’ll vote for the next politicians because they’re different, not because they’re better.

Alegre’s third presidential campaign has united independent parties to fight the Colorado political machine. He has been criticized for suggesting he may terminate nearly 70 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan to open China’s massive markets for Paraguayan soy and beef.

In the Asuncion street market, fish seller Candida Britez, 59, said her sales were weak and falling and she wanted a new political leader.

“Customers used to buy three or five kilos, now maybe one. After the market shuts, she sells what she can door-to-door.

“Those of us who don’t have much want to see prices fall, better schools, and more affordable electricity with our next president,” added Britez.

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