April 19, 2018 / 1:03 PM / in 7 months

Conservative candidate expected to win Paraguay presidency

ASUNCION (Reuters) - The son of a key figure in Paraguay’s 1954-1989 dictatorship is expected to easily win the presidency in Sunday’s election, but his party is projected to lose seats in Congress, complicating his business-friendly legislative agenda.

Presidential candidate for Paraguay's Colorado Party Mario Abdo Benitez attends a campaign rally ahead of Paraguay's April 22 National election in Paraguari, Paraguay April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Stapff

Mario Abdo, of the ruling conservative Colorado party, promises to fight pressure to raise taxes on the country’s key farm sector despite opposition calls for a levy on soybean exports. Recent polls show him ahead by about 25 points over his rival Efrain Alegre, a lawyer from the centrist GANAR coalition.

“Both candidates respect Paraguay’s trajectory in terms of macroeconomic stability, and I think that is positive,” former Finance Minister Manuel Ferreira told Reuters.

Abdo, a 46-year-old former senator, supports the current structure of low taxes and exemptions aimed at stimulating foreign investment and agricultural production in Paraguay, the world’s No. 4 soybean exporter and a major supplier of beef.

He is the U.S.-educated son of the private secretary of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay with an iron hand for 35 years. But Abdo’s commitment to democracy has not been questioned.

Paraguay’s economy has grown in recent years, social welfare programs have been small and the poverty rate among the country’s 6.8 million population is 26.4 percent.

“I see two conservative, democratic platforms that do not put institutions at risk,” said political analyst Alfredo Boccia. “But I do not see a change in the old and tiresome Paraguayan politics that would make things different.”

    The next president will govern for five years, without the possibility of reelection.

    Alegre has focused on his promise of slashing electricity bills to take better advantage of Paraguay’s large-scale Itaipu and Yacyreta hydroelectric plants.

    The polls indicate that after Sunday’s general election the Colorado Party will end up with fewer seats than it has today in Congress, while the leftist Frente Guasu coalition, led by former president Fernando Lugo, will make a strong advance.

    If elected, Abdo may have to make concessions to form alliances that give him manoeuvrability in Congress.

“The executive will have to exert tremendous leadership to bring together the different sectors to support his proposals,” said the president of the Association of Banks of Paraguay, Beltran Macchi.

    About 4.2 million Paraguayans are eligible to vote in the election, which will also renew all seats in Congress and 17 governorships across the country. The new president will take office on August 15.

Reporting by Daniela Desantis, writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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