Politics, Paraguayan style


In case you’re wondering why life has been so crazy this year, let me recap for you politics a la Paraguay.  Today’s events in the Senate spurred me to break the ice and write something about the political situation here.  I’ve tried to avoid it, but it never ceases to amaze me what can happen in this country.  I can neither confirm nor deny that what is written below is completely true or false, but it’s a snapshot of what has played out in the press since late last year.
 
A former Catholic bishop who resigned from the clergy (Fernando Lugo) ran for president of Paraguay this year against a female former education minister (Blanca Ovelar) backed by the former president (Nicanor Duarte Frutos) with a six percent approval rating, and a former general (Lino Oviedo) released from jail just before the election.  (Oviedo was in imprisoned for his alleged coup attempt in 1996 and alleged involvement in the assassination of former vice president Luis Argana.)  Persistent rumors fueled by the press conjecture that former president Duarte and Oviedo struck a deal to let Oviedo out of jail in exchange for dividing the opposition vote and putting Colorado presidential candidate Ovelar in office as president. 
 
Former bishop Lugo won the presidency decisively in April of this year, ending 61 years of Colorado Party rule — the longest-lived ruling party at the time.  The Pope granted Lugo a waiver (dispensation) August 12 to serve as president — an unprecedented move by the Church.  Lugo was sworn in as president on August 15.  Both made the headline news worldwide.  August 15 was interesting, to say the least, with a slough of dignitaries ranging from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou.  (Paraguay maintains diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, a.k.a. Taiwan.)
 
Former president Duarte won a seat in the Senate in April; however, his opponents claim that he violated the Paraguayan Constitution by running for a Senate seat while serving as president.  (In Paraguay, you must resign your position before running for office.  Duarte did not and continued to serve as president while running for Senator.)  Duarte finally decided to resign in June, months after the election.  However, opposition — now majority — members of the Senate boycotted several Senate sessions for the past three months in order to prevent Duarte from swearing in and joining the Senate.
 
In a surprise move, this morning Senate President Enrique Gonzalez Quintana — a member of Oviedo’s party, the National Union of Ethical Citizens (UNACE) — unilaterally swore Duarte in as Senator, contrary to Senate rules and without a quorum or vote.  He claimed that he was fulfilling the mandate of the National Elections Tribunal (TSJE), which designated Duarte senator-elect in April.  Members of the Senate who are opposed to Duarte’s confirmation convened an alternate Senate special session this afternoon to consider Gonzalez’ and Duarte’s fate.  As of this writing, Gonzalez prevailed, and Duarte remains a Senator.  We’ll see what happens over the coming days in the aftermath of this crazy day.  Although today was especially momentous in Paraguayan politics, it’s not really much different than any other day.
 
Stay tuned tomorrow.  I’m sure the action will continue.
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