Former bishop Fernando Lugo scores historic win in
By BILL CORMIER, Associated Press Writer 14 minutes
ASUNCION, Paraguay - Former Roman Catholic bishop
Fernando Lugo won a historic victory in Paraguay's
presidential election Sunday, ending more than six
decades of one-party rule with a mandate to help the
nation's poor and indigenous.
His rival, Blanca Ovelar, conceded defeat after a
closely fought race to lead this poor, agrarian nation
where Ovelar's Colorado Party is the only ruling party
most people have ever known.
News of the win by the gray-bearded Lugo, dubbed the
"bishop of the poor," set off massive parties in
cities across Paraguay with horn-honking caravans of
cars blaring music. Others stamped on torn-down
banners of the Colorado Party, which many Paraguayans
blame for decades of corruption by political elites.
The triumph by Lugo's eclectic opposition alliance
also marked the latest in a series of electoral wins
by leftist, or center-left, leaders in South America.
"You have decided what has to be done in Paraguay. You
have decided to be a free Paraguay. Thank you, thank
you, all of you!" Lugo, 56, told tens of thousands of
supporters in downtown Asuncion, as fireworks burst
under a full moon. "Today, we have written a new
chapter in our nation's political history."
Journalism student Andrea Ramirez, 19, waved a
red-white-and-blue Paraguayan flag at the rally. "I
voted for the first time and am very happy. The
shameless and cynical ones have lost."
With about 13,000 of 14,000 balloting stations
counted, officials said Lugo had 41 percent of the
vote, Ovelar had 31 percent and former army chief Lino
Oviedo had 22 percent. Minor candidates accounted for
the remaining votes.
Ovelar, a former education minister and protege of
outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, conceded that she
had lost after initially disputing exit poll results.
She would have been Paraguay's first female president.
"The outcome is irreversible," Ovelar, 50, said on
national television five hours after polls closed
following largely peaceful voting. Election officials
said Sunday's voting had the highest turnout about
66 percent of any presidential election since the
end of the 35-year dictatorship of the late Gen.
Lugo's triumph broke the Colorado Party's legendarily
long grip on power, which began in 1947, before even
the communist parties in Cuba or China came to power.
In Paraguay's long-volatile politics, Lugo still
awaited final official returns confirming his landmark
triumph, which would make him he first former Catholic
bishop elected as a president.
News broadcasts showed two minor scuffles outside
polling places Sunday, but officials said voting was
without serious incidents.
The Colorado Party had long stayed in power thanks to
an extensive party apparatus and hundreds of thousands
of loyal government civil servants.
But eight months ago, Lugo welded leftist unions,
Indians and poor farmers into a coalition with
Paraguay's main opposition party: the conservative
Authentic Radical Party.
Lugo, who often wears sandals and farmers' hats, then
launched a charismatic campaign in which he blamed
Paraguay's economic woes on decades of corruption by
an elite that ruled at the expense of the poor in a
country of subsistence farmers.
A bishop since 1994, he resigned the post in December
2006 to sidestep Paraguay's constitutional ban on
clergy seeking office. Lugo says he was influenced by
the liberation theology frowned upon by the Vatican.
But he says he is neither on the left nor the right,
but leads a pluralistic coalition.
Recently, left or center-left governments have come to
power in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil,
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
Economist Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center
for Economic and Policy Research said Lugo's win shows
how deep these changes sweeping South America really
"If a candidate of the left, clearly identified with
the poor, can break the grip of the longest-ruling
party in the world and a right-wing party at that
it shows how much South America has changed and how
democracy has taken root," he said.
Lugo has distanced himself from the region's more
radical leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
"Chavez is a military man and I have a religious
background," Lugo told reporters in Washington last
year. "My candidacy has arisen at the request of the
people, it was born in a different way than Hugo
Fueling Lugo's campaign was voter disenchantment with
13 percent joblessness in South America's poorest
country after Bolivia. Some 43 percent of the 6.5
million Paraguayans live in poverty.
Paraguayans were also voting to seat a 45-member
Senate, an 80-member lower House of Deputies and 17 governors.