Paraguayans are preparing to vote on Sunday in what may be the most significant electoral threat to the ruling conservative Colorado Party in almost a decade, with the country’s nearly 70-year relations with Taiwan potentially at danger.
The landlocked South American country of less than 7 million people will go to the polls at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT) with the ruling party’s Santiago Pena, a clean-cut economist, and seasoned opposition lawyer Efrain Alegre as the clear favorites.
The ballot marks the sternest challenge in a decade for the Colorado Party, which has dominated Paraguayan politics since the 1950s and ruled for all but five of the last 75 years, but has been hit by a slowing economy and graft allegations.
“I want change, yes, but not with Colorado, because it’s been them for over 70 years and we are suffering,” said Miriam Sanabria, a food vendor in Asuncion. “We need work, better security, and free medicine at hospitals.”
In the streets and news debates, the political build-up has been dominated by the economy, corruption allegations and the candidates’ views on Taiwan. Paraguay is one of only 13 nations to maintain formal diplomatic ties with the democratically-governed island that China claims as its own.
Alegre has criticized Paraguay’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which have made it hard to sell soy and beef to China, a major global buyer, and has said that the Latin American farm-driven economy does not get enough in return from Taipei.
Pena has said he would maintain ties with Taiwan.
Nearly 5 million people are registered to vote in Sunday’s single-round winner-takes all presidential race. Paraguayans are also electing members of Congress and governors. The first results are expected from around 7 p.m.
In final campaign events, Alegre took aim at corruption charges that have dogged Colorado Party leader Horacio Cartes, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury this year. He called him the “Pablo Escobar of Paraguay”. Cartes denies the allegations.
Pena acknowledged party divisions in his closing ceremony speech and promised to be “a symbol of party unity.”
Paraguayan student Catherine Gonzalez, felt that none of the candidates offered things most normal people needed.
“I think they’re very far away from the day-to-day reality people live in, the people who use public transport, the people who earn the minimum wage and must survive, pay rent and support their family,” she said.