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Paraguay: With less than ten months until the Presidential elections, the country lives with political uncertainties

By Thiago de Aragao.

Paraguay's political history is marked by advances and setbacks and one of the longest dictatorships in the Americas, led by General Alfredo Stroessner. In 2008, the country elected the former Bishop Fernando Lugo, who promised agrarian reform and social improvement. With Lugo's impeachment, the country lives amid a political climate of uncertainty with less than ten months to go until the Presidential elections.

Interestingly enough, according to the country's constitution, the impeachment of the former Paraguayan leader does not make him ineligible; in other words if he wishes, Lugo could run for President in the upcoming election, because even though he was impeached, the former president preserved all his political rights, and therefore there are no legal limitations to his candidacy. On the other hand, Paraguayan law forbids re-election. Consequentially, Federico Franco, the new President cannot run for re-election.

On 21 April, 2013, all Paraguayan citizens aged 18 to 75 years old are required to vote. The population will choose the president, vice-president, governors and 17 out of the country's 45 senators alongside 80 congressmen. However, Lugo's impeachment and the new government of President Federico Franco generated a series of unanswered issues.

Unlike Brazil, where Fernando Collor's impeachment in 1992 was a slow-paced, gradual-developed process monitored step-by-step by the population, Fernando Lugo's impeachment happened suddenly and abruptly. Despite a number of tycoon farmers, opposition politicians and even Lugo sensing that "something was in the air," one cannot deny the incredible efficiency regarding the whole process after the decision to depose Lugo was taken.

Among the few Paraguayan foreign policy concerns, Brazil is undoubtedly the main one. The relationship with Brazil involves, for example, Itaipu, the corridor of Paranaguá, soybean production and the so-called brasiguaios (Paraguayan descendents of Brazilian farming immigrants), who exert significant economic and political influence. Seen as an imperialist country by one of Paraguay's main newspapers, ABC Color, Brazil is working hard to change this stereotype, accepting, for instance, that it has to negotiate tariffs paid for the Paraguayan excess energy supply from Itaipu. Piracy is definitely the downside that Brazil faces in its relationship with Paraguay. Without a clear solution for the problem, piracy has become important to Paraguay's poor economy and a problem for the booming Brazilian economy.

Lugo had a great relationship with former President Lula, something which was promising to the relations between the two countries. However, Lugo did not make it clear to the Brazilian government that his domestic relationship with the major law and opinion makers in the country was extremely fragile.

There are several reasons for Friday's impeachment. Some of the most important are the following:

1. Lugo did not mange to build a decent coalition in Parliament. He lacked the political skills to neutralise enemies and reinforce his allies

2. Despite having the very important support of rural workers, Lugo also needed the support of the country's elites, which he did not have

3. The dialogue and coordination between tycoon farmers and members of the Colorado Party had been occurring for a long time. Sources in the country point to these two as responsible for deflagrating Lugo's deposition

4. The press was not favourable to Lugo and it constituted the most important vehicle of popular clamour

5. Paraguay's domestic policy is strongly influenced by tycoon farmers, the economic and cultural elites of the Asuncion, businessmen and people linked to piracy in Ciudad del Este. Lugo was in direct conflict with the first group, and failed to cultivate a relationship that could favour him with the other groups

The aforementioned facts expose unprecedented weaknesses in a President in South America. If externally, Lugo's impeachment process, was questioned by the foreign press and neighbouring countries, domestically the population seems nonchalant, and in a political climate of anesthesia. However, once the anesthesia fades, the local political system could be the stage of new upheavals.

By the current scenario of Paraguayan politics, elections will polarise the dispute between traditional Colorado Party candidates - who opposed Lugo and were linked to Stroessner - and the Liberal Party. Some names are being presented as possible candidates for the Presidency, but there are no official confirmations.

The possible candidates for the Colorado Party are Horicio Cartes, Zacarias Irún e Lilian Samaniego, the latter is also the party's president. The Liberal Party's possible candidates are Blas Llano, who is a businessman, connected to the Franco government, and Efraim Alegre.