In the power struggle in Paraguay, there are two countries on the ballot that have nothing to do with the actual elections in the South American country. Paraguay has maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan for more than six decades, making it one of about a dozen countries that remain loyal to the tiny island in the power struggle between Beijing and Taipei. But one candidate is now questioning those links. During the presidential election campaign, opposition candidate Efren Alegre repeatedly criticized Asuncion’s ties with Taiwan and instead raised the possibility of rapprochement with Beijing.
If Allegri wins, it will also be a huge victory for Beijing, as it will give the country a clear path into South America. Just a few weeks ago, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the most powerful and influential politician in Latin America, once again openly recognized the one-China policy during his inaugural trip at the start of his third presidency. In Central America, Honduras announced a few weeks ago that it would end diplomatic relations with Taiwan and instead work with Beijing. Tegucigalpa accompanied this decision by handing over to the Chinese a list of investment requests sent by the leftist government of Honduras.
In Paraguay, the “China issue” is now one of the points being discussed in the election campaign. In particular, the fate of those students from Paraguay who are currently studying in Taiwan as part of a partnership raises the fear that study abroad could end quickly. On the other hand, Santiago Peña, the candidate from the government camp, wants to stick to the former closeness to Taiwan.
Great symbolic significance for Taiwan
Margaret Myers, program director for Asia and Latin America at the Inter-American Dialogue, told the BBC recently that Taiwan’s latest link with its South American country is a very symbolic one. “We are dealing with such a small group of enduring diplomatic allies, of which it would be a huge blow to lose more of them, especially after Honduras decided to do the same.”
Domestically, however, the focus is on other issues: public security, unemployment, the wide gap between rich and poor, and the fight against corruption. It is not clear whether this will be sufficient to initiate a change of power at the head of the state.
According to La Nacion, Santiago Peña, who represents the government camp, is leading in opinion polls. Mario Abdo Benitez, the incumbent President of the Colorado Party, was prevented from running for re-election due to the constitutional term limit. He can look back on a mixed term without any highlights.
Challenger Evren Allegri presented himself as resolute and decisive during the election campaign: “Paraguay needs a president with personality and strength,” Allegri said, which, of course, meant that he tried to prevent events. This earned him accusations of authoritarianism and hostility towards the press. On the other hand, the conservative Santiago Peña is trying to reach out to those voters who, if possible, do not want any major changes in Paraguay and turn away from major reforms.
The latest polls put Pena and Allegri in a tight race. Whoever gets the most votes on Sunday is elected, regardless of whether they exceed 50 percent. Some polls even predict a technical tie. At the last minute, even a critic of the Paraguayo Cubas regime could be in for a surprise. He criticized the established parties and was applauded above all by those who are dissatisfied with the two entrenched camps and want to break new ground for the country.
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