Paraguay presidential runner-up demands recount

ASUNCION (Reuters) - The No. 2 finisher in Paraguay’s presidential election said on Tuesday he had evidence of fraudulent voting and demanded a recount of ballots while the president-elect said he may try to change the constitution to allow reelection of future leaders.

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Efrain Alegre, a lawyer from the center-left GANAR coalition, said on social media that the country’s official elections tribunal was too quick to announce that Mario Abdo of the conservative Colorado Party won the election.

“We already have very clear samples of fraud that we are going to denounce case by case,” Alegre said. “We are going to participate in the recount.”

International observers who monitored Sunday’s election reported no major irregularities. Abdo, a 46-year-old former senator who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, is scheduled to be sworn in as president in mid-August.

With 97.67 percent of ballots counted on Sunday, the tribunal said Abdo won 46.44 percent to Alegre’s 42.74 percent. Abdo’s Colorado party also appeared to have lost fewer seats in the Senate than expected, possibly emboldening its reform agenda. Official results of the Senate race will be released next month.

Abdo said in an interview with TV channel CNN en Español on Tuesday that he would seek political consensus for a constitutional reform early next year but would not seek reelection himself.

“Within that consensus could be the idea of reelection... but I would not benefit in a direct way from the changes,” he said.

Reelection is a thorny issue in Paraguay. Most presidents of the democratic era have tried to push it unsuccessfully, in many cases unleashing serious institutional crises.

A year ago, protesters reacted to the aspirations of then-president Horacio Cartes, also of the Colarado Party, to extend his mandate by burning part of Congress.

Abdo is the son of the late private secretary of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay for 35 years. Abdo was 16 when Stroessner’s rule ended in 1989.

Abdo’s conservative policies and family history were a concern to some voters who had doubts about his commitment to clean up government.

Abdo has said on several occasions that he will govern for a single five-year term. The constitutional reform would also include a campaign promise of modifying the country’s judicial system, Abdo said.

Reporting by Mariel Cristaldo and Daniela Desantis; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler