Published:  11:30 PM, 01 May 2023

Paraguay: Pro-Taiwan candidate wins presidential election

Paraguay: Pro-Taiwan candidate wins presidential election
Paraguay's decades of relations with Taiwan look set to continue after a conservative and pro-Taipei candidate, Santiago Pena, was declared the winner in the South American country's presidential election.

Colorado Party candidate Santiago Pena will be Paraguay's next president, after election officials declared him the winner in the country's presidential election on Sunday.

With nearly all voting places reporting, results showed Pena winning with 42.7%. He reported a more than 15-point lead over center-left rival and main competitor, Efrain Alegre.

"Thank you for this Colorado victory, thank you for this Paraguayan victory," Pena said in his victory speech.

"We have a lot to do, after the last years of economic stagnation, of fiscal deficit, the task that awaits us is not for a single person or for a party," he said.

Election authorities put voter participation at over 63% with nearly 5 million people eligible to vote in the general election to choose a new president, members of Congress and governors.
Ties with Taiwan in focus

Sunday's presidential election was being watched closely to see if the ruling conservative Colorado Party could maintain its decadeslong hold on power.
A Paraguayan Indigenous woman casts her vote during presidential elections in Paraguay

Among other issues, the election was seen as a test of Paraguay's nearly 70-year-long ties with Taiwan, as some candidates offered to re-examine relations.

"We have a diplomatic and historic relationship with Taiwan of more than 60 years, based on principles and democratic values that we believe are fundamental for a society like Paraguay," Pena said.

At the same time, he talked about establishing more trade with China, without specifying how.

Taiwan's embassy in Paraguay congratulated Pena on his election win.

"We will continue to work on this fruitful relationship of prosperity partners," the embassy said in a short statement on its Facebook page.

Taiwan's ambassador in Asuncion also offered his congratulations to Pena on behalf of President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Prior to the election, Alegre advocated for a shift in loyalty towards China. He criticized Paraguay's relationship with Taiwan, claiming that it has created difficulties in exporting soy and beef to China, a significant global market.

Paraguay is one of just 13 nations to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Most of Taiwan's biggest backers, including the US and Germany and all of NATO, hold formal diplomatic ties with China and not Taiwan. Beijing insists its potential partners to choose between it and Taipei.

Alegre also said that Latin America's farm-driven economy does not get enough in return from Taipei.

The Colorado Party's Pena, on the other hand, has vowed to maintain ties with Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy also posted a statement on social media congratulating Pena, hoping to strengthen bilateral relations and promote "transparency and inclusive democracy.".

A tight-rope walk for Colorado Party

The Colorado Party has dominated Paraguayan politics since the 1950s and ruled for all but five of the last 75 years.

However, in recent years, the party has been hit by a poor economy and corruption allegations.

Alegre raised the Colorado Party's corruption issues at multiple election rallies.

He would frequently mention party leader Horacio Cartes, who was sanctioned by the US Treasury and resigned as vice president last year. Cartes denies the corruption allegations.

These factors also contributed to the support for right-wing populist Paraguayo Cubas, who received a larger-than-expected 23% of the vote.

"I'm worried about crime. All the candidates are the same for me," said 34-year-old mother of three Maria Jose Rodas said. "Nothing will change."


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