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Former bishop Fernando Lugo scores historic win in Paraguay

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080421/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/paraguay_election Former bishop Fernando Lugo scores historic win in Paraguay By BILL CORMIER, Associated
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 20, 2008

      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.
      Alfredo Stroessner.

      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.
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