Now it’s my turn

OPINION polls gave Mario Abdo Benítez a lead of 10-25 percentage points ahead of Paraguay’s presidential election on April 22nd. So it was no surprise when Mr Abdo Benítez, the son of the private secretary to Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay’s dictator from 1954-89, was declared the winner. However, his margin of victory was much smaller than predicted: under 4% on a turnout of 61%. Both figures were the lowest since the return to democracy in 1989.

The president-elect’s Colorado Party has now won six of the seven elections since Stroessner’s fall. By 2023, it will have ruled for 70 of the past 75 years. The party closed ranks after a bitter primary in December, when Mr Abdo Benítez defeated Santiago Peña, the dauphin of the outgoing president, Horacio Cartes.

The main opposition, an awkward coalition of the conservative Liberal Party and the left-wing Frente Guasú, ran a ragged campaign. Its presidential candidate, Efraín Alegre, proposed slashing energy prices, making taxes more progressive and revamping a judiciary “compromised by corruption and the mafia”. However, he did not unveil his full manifesto until five days before the vote. Mr Alegre is yet to concede and has made claims of electoral fraud, though foreign observers say the election was well-run.

Mr Alegre failed to draw blood by deriding Mr Abdo Benítez as a puppet of Mr Cartes or a would-be Stroessner. The victor had proven his independent streak by opposing Mr Cartes in the senate. “He was more of an opposition than the opposition itself,” says Nelson Zamudio, a Colorado-voting shopkeeper.

The new man has said he will keep Mr Cartes’s finance minister, Lea Giménez. He will not touch Paraguay’s “10-10-10” formula for corporate, income and value-added tax, nor more heavily tax the weighty soya-bean sector, says Daniel Correa, a chief adviser. He does plan to raise spending on infrastructure. With sufficient public investment, Mr Correa says, Paraguay could become an international logistics and manufacturing hub, and a major trading portal for Brazil.

Some big issues barely surfaced in the campaign. A 50-year treaty with Brazil over the lucrative Itaipú hydroelectric dam must be revisited by 2023. A guerrilla group is troubling the north. Drug gangs menace the border with Brazil. And one in four Paraguayans, including nearly three-quarters of the country’s indigenous people, are still poor.