Saturday, April 26, 2008

Paraguay elects a Leftist ex-Bishop as President

Fernando Lugo was elected in the elections held on 20 April. It was not surprising, since he had been leading in the opinion polls for the last one year. I had been predicting and talking about this to the surprise and consternation of my Paraguayan friends.

It is a historic election for Paraguay. The Colorado party which was continuously ruling the country for the last 61 years was defeated for the first time. On the contrary, Lugo is a newcomer to politics. He took to politics only in 2006. He was one of those believers and practioners of Liberation Theology and was known as the Bishop of the poor. He formed a coalition with an assortment of political parties and indigenous groups and won the elections against formidable obstacles put in his way.

Lugo is the first Leftist President of the country. He wants to change the conditions of the poor. He wants to carry out land reforms and rid the society of corruption. Paraguay is the second most poor country in South America after Bolivia and one of the most corrupt and mismanaged.

But credit must be given to Colorado party candidate and the current President who quickly conceded defeat gracefully and committed to peaceful transfer of power due on 15 August. This shows the maturity of the leaders in contrast to what happened in Mexico. Credit is also due to the government which organised free and fair elections even after knowing that they risked losing power.

The election was colourful in a latino way ! The three main candidates were a bishop, woman ( queen) and a general ( knight).

Lugo´s election completes the Circle of the Left in south america where all the countries except Colombia ( where leftist ideology has been kidnapped and held hostage by FARC) have elected leftist governments. I prefer to call this development as empowerment of the masses , rather than an ideological shift. The masses who were marginalised and excluded in the past have exercised their power to elect those who have an agenda for them...simple !

Lugo is moderate, balanced and mature. He proposes to follow the model of Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay, who is respected in his country and in the region for his pragmatic approach. The opposition had accused Lugo as a Chavista and of receiving funds from Chavez. But Lugo is independent and nationalistic. Lugo did not indulge in any anti-American rhetoric. His language is not confrontational or polarising like in the case of some south american presidents.

Lugo will face many challenges to implement his agenda for change. he does not have a cohesive majority in the congress. His coalition parners, which include communists, liberals and indigenous groups have divergent agenda. The traditional political parties have control of the Congress and many provinces.

In foreign policy, he is going to make some changes. He is going to open diplomatic relations with China. Paraguay remains as the only country in south america to have recognised Taiwan. Lugo is asking for a better deal from Mercosur, which is run by the big boys, Brazil and Argentina. He has asked for a fair price for the electricity being supplied to Brazil from the 12000 MW Itaipu dam. Although President Lula ruled out renegoiations, his foreign minister Celso Amorim has hinted that discussions were possible. Lugo has demanded a simliar fair deal from a joint hydro power project with Argentina too.

Lugo seeks partnership with new powers such as India. Of course, the outgoing government had also attached importance to India and opened embassy in newdelhi. Lugo can be expected to be more friendly. Paraguay is the fourth largest exporter of soya in the world and this is important for India. There are opportunities for investment by Indian companies in agribusiness.

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