Vowing to uproot graft and impunity, the ex-senator has called for a transformation of the country. But some Paraguayans have cast doubt on his ability to lead an anti-corruption campaign given his ties to a dictator.
Conservative candidate Mario Abdo Benitez won Paraguay's presidential election with 46.5 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said on Monday after counting 96 percent of ballots. His centrist rival, Efrain Alegre, garnered 42.7 percent of the vote.
Abdo, of the governing Colorado party, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, vowing to uphold human rights and strengthen democratic institutions in one of the world's largest soybean exporters.
"I promise that when I am president I will honor the vote of the people, strengthening institutions to fight the greatest vices of democracy: corruption and impunity," said Benitez in the run-up to the vote.
'Country of corruption'
The 46-year-old former senator is the son of a private secretary to the late dictator General Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled for 35 years after leading a coup d'etat in 1954. Despite his victory, some have called into question whether he could lead a campaign against graft.
Read more: 'Social pressure can help fight corruption'
"This is a country of corruption and until we end that, we will not move forward," 45-year-old Edgar Gonzalez told Reuters news agency before casting his vote on Sunday. "Mario Abdo is a son of the dictatorship and I do not think he will govern well."
Efrain Alegre beat expectations by further closing the gap on election day, but he still fell shy of victory with 42.7 perent of the vote
Last year, Paraguay ranked 135 out of 180 in corruption watchdog Transparency International's corruption perceptions index. The corruption watchdog said other indices and surveys showed "a bleak reality of the state of corruption" in the South American country.
"From the end of Alfredo Stroessner's regime in 1989, Paraguay has struggled to fight systemic corruption in all sectors of the government," Transparency International said in a report. "The progress in the fight against corruption has been slow as political instability and a strong business sector has deterred efforts."
'In favor of democracy'
But after Abdo was declared winner in the presidential election, he doubled-down on his pledge to uproot corruption, saying: "Nobody can doubt my engagement in favor of democracy."
Read more: Paraguay: Helping indigenous communities
Abdo has promised to continue supporting the low-tax policies currently in place, which aim to lure foreign investment and agricultural production in the country. He has also called for dialogue with opposition parties as he takes office with a minority in Congress.
ls/se (EFE, AFP, Reuters)