Santiago Pena also promised to move his country’s Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
The former IMF economist and ex-finance minister, Santiago Pena, 44, has claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential election, extending the continuity of power of the Colorado Party, which has ruled almost uninterruptedly since the middle of last century.
Santiago Pena was in the lead with some 43 percent of the vote after almost all of the ballots counted as of 10pm Sunday evening. His two main rivals split the remaining vote, guaranteeing Pena and his running mate Pedro Alliana’s victory in the single-round winner-takes-all presidential race.
The Authentic Radical Liberal (PLRA) challenger, Efrain Alegre, won some 27.5 percent of the vote, while an ex-Senator Paraguayo “Payo” Cubas of the National Crusade party came third with around 23 percent.
While the electoral authority has yet to officially confirm the results, incumbent leader Mario Abdo Benitez, who was not eligible for re-election, already congratulated his successor and called him president-elect.
“We will work to initiate an orderly and transparent transition that strengthens our institutions and the country’s democracy,” Abdo tweeted.
Over the course of the race, Pena was criticized by his center-left rival Alegre as a “servant” of Abdo’s predecessor Horacio Cartes and a member of a deeply corrupt political force. The US Treasury Department has recently imposed sanctions against Cartes and the current vice-president Hugo Velazquez, accusing them of “significant” corruption. Both have denied all allegations.
Pena said he would once again relocate Paraguay’s embassy in Israel, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in an interview with AFP ahead of the vote. Paraguay had briefly moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 in one of the last decisions by Cartes. After Abdo took office he immediately reversed the move.
Paraguay is the only remaining country in South America to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and is one of just 13 countries in the world that officially recognize the island as “Republic of China.” The opposition supported the calls by local farming industries to review the policy and boost trade with Beijing, but technocrat and former central bank board member, Pena, ignored the pledges and promised to maintain ties with Taipei.