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Ex-bishop ends 61 years of one-party rule in Paraguay

Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won Paraguay’s presidential election, defeating Blanca Ovelar of the ruling center-right Colorado Party that has ruled the South American country since 1947.

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Click here to read more about Lugo: the "Red Bishop."

 

Cheering crowds thronged the streets of Paraguay’s capital Asuncion to celebrate former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo’s presidential victory, ending more than six decades of conservative one-party rule.

 

“You are responsible for the happiness of the majority of the Paraguayan people today”, Lugo told jubilant supporters after partial results were announced. “This is the Paraguay I dream about, with many colors, many faces, the Paraguay of everyone.”

 

With most votes counted Lugo is leading the race with 41% of the votes – ten points ahead of ruling Colorado party candidate Blanca Ovelar. Retired army chief Lino Oviedo trailed in third place with 22% of the votes.

 

“It’s a very big shift for Paraguay and Paraguyan politics”, says FRANCE 24’s correspondent Thierry Ogier in Brazil. “The election campaign was very tough and now we will see how the transition proceeds after sixty-one years of Colorado party’s rule.”

 

The 56-year-old champion of the poor formed the Patriotic Alliance for Change, a centre-left coalition that includes farm groups, unions and the traditional Liberal Party.



Lugo stepped down as bishop in late 2006 to enter politics and vowed to tackle poverty and corruption. His agenda will mainly focus on redistribution of farmland and cattle ranches that are heavily concentrated in the hands of small but wealthy elite.

 

 

A historic election

 

 

Lugo’s win ends the longest period of continuous rule by any party in the world. The Colorado party has ruled the country since 1947. The party supported General Alfredo Stroessner's brutal 35-year dictatorship until 1989, when it helped oust Stroessner.

 

“We’ve made history with these elections!” Lugo told supporters.

 

Colorado Party candidate Blanca Ovelar, a former education minister, conceded defeat on Sunday. “I recognize the triumph of Fernando Lugo," Ovelar said. “We acknowledge with dignity that the results for the presidential badge are at this point irreversible.”

 

Ovelar’s support was marred by fraud allegations and bitter divisions within the party.

 

Outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, who could not seek re-election after serving a five-year term, promised a smooth and peaceful transition of power.



"Today we suffered an electoral defeat," Duarte told his Colorado Party, but added: "I want to stress that for the first time in Paraguay's political history, there will be a party-to-party transition without bloodshed, coup d'etat, without violence."

 

‘New symbol of Latin America’

 

 

Lugo is the latest member of the club of left-leaning leaders in South America. While opponents compare him with radical left-wing presidents including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the former bishop calls himself independent and more of a centrist.

 


“Many of us have been using the term 'left' in Latin America.” Lugo told reporters. “When five people meet and talk about the left there'll be five different concepts of what that means. We will mark out our own path,” he said.

 


FRANCE 24’s Ogier says Lugo doesn’t like to be called a leftist and would be looking for a third way. “He has sounded more of a moderate recently but one has to see what kind of policies he will adopt”, says Ogier. “He has little experience in politic; but could prove to be the new symbol of Latin America.”


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