ASUNCION, April 20 (Reuters) - Opposition leader and former
Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo led Paraguay's presidential
election on Sunday and appeared poised to end more than 60
years of one-party rule, exit polls and early results showed.
Paraguay's electoral court said Lugo had a lead of more
than 6 percentage points over ruling Colorado Party candidate
Blanca Ovelar with returns in from 16 percent of polling
Four exit polls showed Lugo triumphing with between 40
percent and 43 percent of votes, ahead of Ovelar, who captured
between 36 percent and 38 percent support.
Lugo greeted dozens of supporters at his campaign
headquarters, shaking a raised fist and kissing a Paraguayan
flag draped around his neck.
"We can say today that the little people are also capable
of winning," Lugo said, although he stopped short of claiming
The 56-year-old left his post as bishop three years ago,
saying he felt powerless to help Paraguay's poor, and he
launched his political career the following year.
He headed a center-left coalition at the election. He calls
himself an independent and has steered clear of South America's
more radical leftist leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez
and Evo Morales in Bolivia, but is seen as a likely ally of
moderate leftist presidents in the region.
"I'm supporting Lugo because he cared about poor people
when he was bishop and I think he's honest and won't steal from
the Paraguayan people like all the other politicians have,"
said Pedro Ramirez, a 19-year-old street vendor.
Ovelar is the first woman to run for president of Paraguay,
a poor South American country known for corruption and
contraband. Fraud allegations and bitter divisions marred her
party's primary election and weakened support for her.
Retired army Gen. Lino Oviedo, who was freed from prison
last year after the Supreme Court overturned his sentence for
plotting a coup in the mid-1990s, was trailing in third place.
The Colorado Party has dominated Paraguayan politics since
it took power in 1947, and it backed Gen. Alfredo Stroessner's
brutal 35-year dictatorship until helping to oust him in 1989.
A landlocked country dwarfed by wealthier neighbors
Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay relies economically on
agricultural and hydroelectric power exports. But nearly four
in every 10 Paraguayans are poor.