Paraguayans vote in general elections for president, legislators, governors

Asuncion, Apr 30 (EFE).- Voter turnout has been high right from the start on Sunday in Paraguay amid mutual accusations from the government and opposition during the general elections, where 4.8 million citizens are eligible to cast their ballots to select the president, senators, other legislators and governors.

The main unknown, according to voter surveys over the past few days, is whether Santiago Peña, the presidential candidate of the governing Colorado Party, will manage to defeat opposition standard-bearer Efrain Alegre, the leader of the Concertacion, a grouping of center-left parties. The most recent surveys show that neither man has managed to pull out ahead of the polls’ error margin envelopes and thus the race is too close to call.

The polls opened at 7 am on a day that was anticipated to be quite hot, and although the authorities have not yet provided voter participation figures, television images showed long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots at various polling stations.

Voting in Paraguay is obligatory, but the punishment for abstention is very light and in the majority of cases no sanction is imposed if someone doesn’t show up at the polls, thus making voting largely “voluntary.”

Both the governing party as well as the opposition have accused one another of using various inducements to get their supporters to the polls. The Colorado backers have even been talking about “attempts to incite violence at some spots in the interior of the country,” while the opposition claims that in Yby Pyta, an interior town, armed groups linked to drug trafficking and the government are preventing people from going to the polls.

In the electoral precinct where former President Horacio Cartes cast his ballot, members of his security team threw ABC Color journalist Brian Caceres to the ground when he tried to ask questions of the man who also heads the Colorado Party and who in late January authorities in the United States sanctioned after determining that he was “significantly corrupt.”

Paraguayans living abroad are also voting at polling stations set up in Argentina, Brazil, the US and Spain, countries where most of the emigrant community is concentrated.

Meanwhile, international observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States who are on hand to monitor the elections have confirmed the large voter turnout and the “relative calmness” of election day so far.

EU election monitoring mission chief Gabriel Moto acknowledged that some “small incidents” had occurred at some of the 1,157 precincts, and OAS mission chief Luis Lauredo said he was very impressed with the voter turnout, adding that “no substantial complaints” have been made by either political grouping.

Lauredo said that experts from 18 countries make up the OAS electoral team and Moto indicated that 124 people comprise the EU election monitoring contingent.

EFE mf/lb/bp

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