Horacio Cartes wins Paraguay presidential election

Image source, Reuters
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Horacio Cartes says he will lead Paraguay "in a new direction"

Wealthy businessman Horacio Cartes has been elected president of Paraguay.

A political newcomer, Mr Cartes beat the Liberal Party's Efrain Alegre by nine percentage points.

The result restores the Colorado Party to power after its defeat by the left-wing candidate Fernando Lugo in 2008.

Mr Cartes faces the challenge of fighting high levels of poverty and of ending the country's isolation in the region following last year's disputed impeachment of President Lugo.

Regional bodies Mercosur and Unasur suspended Paraguay over the issue.

'New direction'

Mr Cartes won 45.8% of the votes, compared to 36.9% for Efrain Alegre of the governing Liberal Party. Mr Alegre conceded defeat shortly after the results were announced.

In his victory speech, Mr Cartes said that that he would lead Paraguay in "a new direction".

With tears in his eyes and the Paraguayan flag wrapped around his neck, Mr Cartes said he would be the president of all Paraguayans.

"I didn't come to work alone, this country is going to make strong progress once we all realise we have to work together," he said.

Mr Cartes is a newcomer to politics, who only joined the Colorado Party in 2009.

He is a powerful businessman with controlling stakes in dozens of companies, including a bank, Paraguay's largest tobacco company and a variety of agricultural businesses.

He is also the chairman of Libertador Football Club, which won last year's Paraguayan championship.

Mr Cartes was inspired to join politics in 2009 because he was "disappointed and restless about the political course of Paraguay under a left-oriented-Chavista-inspired government", he said, referring to the government of President Lugo and its closeness to the late leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

During his campaign, Mr Cartes had to confront accusations of fraud and links with drug trafficking.

He dismissed them all, saying that while he had spent time in prison on allegations of fraud in 1989, all charges against him had eventually been dropped.

He has also been accused of homophobia after telling a radio station that talk of legalising same-sex marriage made him think of "the end of the world".

'Congressional coup'

Fellow Colorado members have described him as "efficient" and determined to give the Colorado Party a "fresh start".

The party, which came to power in 1947, governed Paraguay for 60 years. It played a key part in supporting the military rule of Gen Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989.

In 2008, it was beaten by a left-wing coalition headed by Fernando Lugo.

Mr Lugo was controversially impeached in June 2012.

The move followed a land eviction at a farm that led to the deaths of 11 farmers and six police officers.

The incident sparked a nationwide outcry and the opposition declared President Lugo responsible. Mr Lugo was replaced by Vice-President Federico Franco of the Liberal Party in less than 48 hours.

Neighbouring countries recalled their diplomats calling the impeachment a "congressional coup".

Paraguay was suspended from regional trade organisation Mercosur and Unasur. Mr Cartes said he would make rejoining them one of his priorities.

On Monday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who currently holds the rotating presidency of Mercosur, invited Mr Cortes to attend the next Mercosur meeting in June.

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