ASUNCION (Reuters) - A wealthy Paraguayan businessman will lead the rightist Colorado Party’s efforts to regain the presidency in an April election after four years on the margins of power.
Millionaire Horacio Cartes, 56, a political newcomer with business interests ranging from banking to tobacco, won a primary election on Sunday with support of about 60 percent, according to preliminary party results.
Cartes launched his candidacy on a conciliatory note, calling for party unity and vowing his government would be committed to fighting the poverty that afflicts almost half of Paraguay’s population.
“There’s no point having huge buildings and roads if almost 50 percent of the people are still poor,” he said at his campaign base, accompanied by his two daughters and his running mate for vice president, former governor Juan Afara.
The Colorado Party governed the landlocked, soy-exporting South American country for more than six decades without interruption, until 2008 when it was defeated by left-leaning former Roman Catholic bishop, Fernando Lugo.
Lugo was ousted by Congress in a controversial impeachment earlier this year that left the presidency in the hands of Liberal Party politician Federico Franco until the April 21 election.
Cartes won the Colorado presidential nomination after a long campaign that saw him win over party leaders initially skeptical about him because of his lack of political experience.
His main rival for the presidency looks set to be the center-right Liberal Party’s candidate Efrain Alegre. Opinion polls show the two parties in a tight race, with Alegre - who has been campaigning for several months - slightly ahead.
That could change following Sunday’s Colorado primary.
“There’s a good chance the Colorados will return to government next year because, in contrast with the last election, the Colorado Party’s going to be united and the opposition divided,” said political analyst Jose Carlos Rodriguez.
“The Colorado Party has found someone with funding, a competitive candidate but with a lot of doubts because he isn’t a politician. We don’t have much idea about his agenda and he has some negative issues in his past,” he added.
Cartes was accused and later acquitted of illegal foreign currency deals during the 35-year dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. He has denied any wrongdoing.
On the political left, Lugo plans to run for a Senate seat representing the Frente Guasu coalition.
Writing by Helen Popper; editing by Todd Eastham