Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hope, Change and Electioneering

Paraguay is a very young democracy, since 1992 in fact. As many young democracies, politics has been fairly unstable with coalitions forming and collapsing bringing governments down with them. While dominated by a political elites, and effectively one party for much of the last 16 years, it has been commented that personal power were far more important for those standing for office than serving the nation in any way.

That may have all changed though. A total outsider and former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, the man who campaigned as "bishop of the poor" won 41% of the vote in an election that witnessed the highest ever turnout (66%) to become president. Maintaining a tradition of giving out free food when 'on the stump' he offered hope and, according to the LA Times correspondent, "Lugo is like a charismatic comet on a collision course with the lumbering planet that is Paraguay's political status quo". His campaigning was very much street level, but the rhetoric is the language of change used the world over.

In commenting on Paraguayan democracy and the political elite Lugo stated: “in Paraguay there are only thieves and the victims of thieves”. His intention was to break the status quo on the back of "“an inclusive political movement because it is solely by coming together within diversity, with everyone respecting our natural differences that we can build a new Paraguay”. Sound familiar?

Lugo's is probably a great victory, if nothing else it shows that there is more than one party politics and that the electorate does have the power to change the system. The reasons he won seem so familiar and widespread though, even if the actual context may be less serious. Dissatisfaction with the system; the desire for a charismatic outsider, someone closer to the people; the desire for change; and perhaps also the desire for values beyond neo-liberal free market capitalism. In the US they have Obama, there are many examples of figures appearing across Europe, it seems voters across the world have similar desires. In accepting victory Lugo told reporters "Today we can dream of a different country... Paraguay will simply not be remembered for its corruption and poverty, but for its honesty." Can he deliver?

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