ASUNCION Millionaire businessman and political newcomer Horacio Cartes is topping polls before Paraguay's April 21 presidential election, although the size of his lead varied significantly in two surveys published on Sunday.
Cartes, 56, hopes to get the rightist Colorado Party back in office after four years on the margins of power in Paraguay, one of South America's poorest countries.
His main rival is Efrain Alegre of the ruling center-right Liberal Party that took over the presidency in June, when Congress impeached left-leaning President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop.
Alegre is a 50-year-old lawyer and longtime politician.
Cartes was shown capturing 42.7 percent of voter preferences versus Alegre's 29.2 percent in a poll by Grau & Asociados consulting group, published in daily newspaper Ultima Hora.
Another survey showed him with a much slimmer lead, however. The poll by Gabinete de Estudios de Opinion, published in the same newspaper, showed Cartes with 36.8 percent of voter support versus Alegre's 35.6 percent.
Adolfo Grau, who heads the consultancy bearing his name, said Cartes' victory in next month's election was practically assured, whereas the head of GEO, Jose Nicolas Morinigo, said either candidate could end up leading the soy-exporting nation.
Polling in third place with less than 10 percent of voter support is local TV host Mario Ferreiro, who is leading the Avanza Pais coalition of leftist parties, both surveys showed.
The poll by Grau & Asociados was conducted from March 13 to March 21 among 1,400 people, with a margin of error of 3 percent. The GEO survey was carried out between March 6 and March 15 among 1,401 respondents and has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Hilary Burke)