Paraguay′s Mario Abdo Benitez expected to win presidential election | News | DW | 22.04.2018
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Paraguay's Mario Abdo Benitez expected to win presidential election

The US-educated son of a top aide to Paraguay's late dictator Alfredo Stroessner is tipped to win the presidential vote. Opinion polls show Mario Abdo Benitez of the ruling Colorado party leading his rival Efrain Alegre.

Some 4.2 million Paraguayans will head to the polls on Sunday to elect one of two presidential candidates, a new parliament and district governors.

Polling stations open at 7 a.m. (1100 UTC) and will close nine hours later, with the first results expected about an hour later.

Mario Abdo Benitez (pictured above, right), whose father was a private secretary to late dictator General Alfredo Stroessner, is widely expected to succeed outgoing President Horacio Cartes.

Read more: Paraguay president announces he will not run for re-election in 2018

The 46-year-old, known as "Marito," is running for the ruling Colorado party, which was once headed by Stroessner. Opinion polls show Benitez with a lead of 20 percentage points.

The Authentic Radical Liberal Party's candidate, Efrain Alegre (pictured above, left), is his closest rival.

During the campaign, both promised to bring foreign investment to create jobs for the country's fast-growing economy, which has seen annual growth of about 6 percent over the past five years. Corruption and poverty affect nearly 29 percent of the population and close to 80 percent of all property is owned by just 2 percent of the population, according to Oxfam Intermon.

Read more: Protesters set fire to Paraguay Congress after secret vote on presidential term

"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," Benitez said in the lead-up to Sunday's vote.

Efrain Alegre and Mario Abdo Benitez engage in a live televised debate

Both candidates agree on one thing: opposing the legalization of abortion and gay marriage

Benitez, who attended university in the US, later founding an asphalt company in the late 1990s that sold to state contractors, won a Senate seat in 2013 and became president of the Senate in 2015.

He does not talk publicly about the role his father played in Stroessner's brutal regime that saw him jailed following the leader's ouster in 1989.

"I have the best memories of the Stroessner family," he said in a 2017 interview with the Paraguayan newspaper Ultima Hora.

"I was young when the democratic process happened. In our movement we have people who were persecuted during that time and today they trust me because I built my own identity. You don't choose where you're born, although I don't disown my origins."

His 55-year-old rival, Efrain Alegre, from the centrist GANAR alliance, advocated cutting electricity prices in a bid to stimulate jobs and investment as well as providing free health care to the country's poor.

Both candidates oppose the legalization of abortion and gay marriage in the deeply conservative Catholic country.

Read more: 'Social pressure can help fight corruption'

"I am all for life. I am against abortion and its decriminalization, in any case. Personally, I believe that nobody can take the place of God to decide on the life or death of a person," Alegre told the Agence France-Presse news agency in an interview.  

Alegre is contesting his second presidential election in five years, having lost to tobacco magnate Cartes when he became president in 2013.

Sunday's vote will renew all seats of Congress and 17 governorships across the country, with the new president set to take office on August 15.

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jlw/aw (AP, AFP)

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