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Ex-bishop wins Paraguay election, ousts ruling party

A mild-mannered former Roman Catholic bishop won Paraguay's presidential election on Sunday to end more than 60 years of one-party rule.
Reuters | By Hilary Burke, Asuncion
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2008 08:13 AM IST

A mild-mannered former Roman Catholic bishop won Paraguay's presidential election on Sunday to end more than 60 years of one-party rule.

Fernando Lugo had nearly 41 per cent support, a lead of 10 percentage points over ruling party candidate Blanca Ovelar, with results in from 88 percent of polling stations, the electoral court said.

Ovelar, the first woman to run for president in Paraguay, conceded defeat on Sunday night as tens of thousands of Lugo's supporters rallied in a central square in the capital Asuncion.

Firecrackers resounded throughout the city and caravans of cars and trucks clogged the streets, honking their horns.

A smiley, gray-bearded man who often wears sandals, Lugo inspired Paraguayans fed up with conditions in the poor South American country known for corruption and contraband.

"Today we've written a new chapter in our nation's political history," the 56-year-old Lugo told reporters.

Lugo left his post as bishop three years ago, saying he felt powerless to help Paraguay's poor. He launched his political career the following year and led a center-left coalition at the presidential election, vowing to stamp out corruption and ease inequalities.

Some of his critics have tried to link him to criminals who kidnapped and killed a former president's daughter, but Lugo has denied any connection to the crime.


Lugo calls himself an independent and has steered clear of South America's more radical left-wing leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales in Bolivia, but is seen as a likely ally of moderate leftist presidents in the region.

"I'm supporting Lugo because he cared about poor people when he was bishop and I think he's honest and won't steal from the Paraguayan people like all the other politicians have," said Pedro Ramirez, a 19-year-old street vendor.

Fraud allegations and bitter divisions marred the ruling party's primary election and weakened support for Ovelar, a former education minister whose mentor is outgoing President Nicanor Duarte Frutos.

Retired army Gen. Lino Oviedo, who was freed from prison last year after the Supreme Court overturned his sentence for plotting a coup in the mid-1990s, trailed in third place in Sunday's election.

The Colorado Party has dominated Paraguayan politics since it took power in 1947, and it backed Gen. Alfredo Stroessner's brutal 35-year dictatorship until helping to oust him in 1989.

A landlocked country dwarfed by wealthier neighbors Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay relies economically on agricultural and hydroelectric power exports. But nearly four in every 10 Paraguayans are poor and many are tired of widespread corruption.

(Additional reporting by Mariel Cristaldo, Daniela Desantis, and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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