Paraguay: Populist Candidate Burns Protesters After Voting

Hundreds of people protested in the Paraguayan capital for the second day in a row on Tuesday, alleging that this weekend’s presidential election was marred by fraud, a claim that President-elect Santiago Peña, electoral authorities and international observers dismissed.

Paraguayan Cubas, a far-right populist fringe from the National Crusade Party who came third in Sunday’s presidential race with 23% of the vote, called for the demonstrations Monday after receiving a larger share of the vote than expected. on the back of a strong anti-establishment message.

The protests mean that Paraguay has become the latest country in the Americas in which a populist candidate calls on his supporters to protest the results of an election, alleging fraud without presenting any firm evidence to back up the claims.

“We are here requesting an audit of all the records,” said Francisco Soteras, who was a candidate for the lower house of Congress for Cubas’s party and joined the protesters Tuesday night. “We are already seeing some signs of fraud in this regard. If there is 10% fraud, we are requesting that the elections be redone.”

Peña easily won Sunday’s election with 43% of the vote, a result that surprised analysts who had expected a close contest with Efraín Alegre, the second-placed candidate representing a coalition of parties that had been described as the best chance in recent history for the opposition to wrest power from the Colorado Party. However, in the end it was not even close since Alegre obtained 27% of the votes.

Despite the mixed results, Paraguay woke up with roadblocks in numerous parts of the country on Tuesday, largely set up by supporters of Cuba.

“This is what the people feel today: discontent, rejection and a bitter feeling that their will was repressed and they stole the true president of the republic,” said Cristian Delgado, another candidate for deputy from Cubas’ party who joined to the demonstrations on Tuesday. .

Peña called on the government to ensure “free transit” on the streets of Paraguay.

“Unfortunately today many people were unable to get to their places of work, many people were late to their places of work,” Peña said Tuesday in dismissing the fraud allegations.

The Organization of American States, which deployed an election observation mission for the vote, said Tuesday there was “no reason to doubt the results” of the election.

Cubas supporters clashed with police Monday night outside Paraguay’s electoral court in the capital Asuncion. Some 70 people were detained, said prosecutor Fátima Capurro.

The Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday it would investigate the incidents, but that did not appear to intimidate protesters waving Paraguayan flags outside the electoral court earlier that day.

Alegre, the second-place candidate for the Pact for a New Paraguay, called on Monday for a manual vote count and an international audit of the country’s electronic voting system. Alegre had conceded shortly after Sunday’s vote and did not denounce fraud, though he changed his tune after the protests began.

Cubas, who openly admires El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele and his hardline stance on crime, said he would travel to Asunción to lead the protests.

“It is impossible, from my humble point of view, that a tired population has given victory to these drug traffickers,” he said in a television interview.

Analysts immediately drew parallels to what happened in Brazil last year when supporters of then-President Jair Bolsonaro refused to concede defeat in the October election and his supporters launched protests, including roadblocks. His supporters then stormed major government buildings to dispute the election result in a move reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

“He is following the Bolsonaro playbook by calling demonstrations,” said Leandro Lima, a senior political risk analyst at Control Risks, a consultancy.

However, at the same time, there is a key difference in that Cubas does not have the support of the police and military as Bolsonaro did. “This lack of a military component is something that makes the Paraguayan case less complex to handle,” Lima said.

The way in which Alegre followed Cubas’ lead in denouncing fraud shows how the populist politician will be an important voice in Paraguayan politics despite coming third in the elections.

That growth in Cubas’ influence comes at a time when there is a “regional trend of anti-establishment populist discourse against traditional politics and institutions,” Lima said.

In neighboring Argentina, for example, an anti-establishment right-wing populist politician, Javier Milei, is also gaining strength and is seen among the front-runners ahead of October’s presidential election. —————-

Politi reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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