Ruling party win reassures Paraguay army: Despite a split before the elections, the Colorados were able to muster enough support to see off their challengers, writes Colin Harding

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The Independent Online
GENERAL Lino Oviedo did not need to take his tanks out on to the streets of Asuncion after all.

Paraguay's ruling Colorado party, though not quite the force it was, still managed to mobilise enough votes to see off two challengers in Sunday's presidential election. The Asuncion garrison commander's prediction that the army and Colorados would rule Paraguay 'forever' may yet turn out to be true.

Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the winning candidate with just over 40 per cent of the 1.2 million votes cast, immediately announced that General Alfredo Stroessner, who used the Colorado machine to keep himself in the presidential palace for 35 years, would be allowed to return from exile in Brazil. That is only fitting. Mr Wasmosy, 55, a businessman, owes him a lot: he made a large part of his fortune from government construction contracts during the Stroessner years.

The old autocrat was bundled out of the country in 1989 by Gen Oviedo and the current President, General Andres Rodriguez, who will place the tricolor sash over Mr Wasmosy's shoulders on 15 August to inaugurate the country's first civilian president for 50 years.

In the end, the Colorados' ability to mobilise the rural vote seems to have been decisive. That is the way it has been since the 1940s, and Gen Stroessner tuned the party machinery to such a pitch that nothing moved in Paraguay's Guarani-speaking countryside without the local political boss's permission. Things have begun to change, but not enough to make the difference for the opposition candidate, Guillermo Caballero Vargas, another millionaire businessman. He won almost half the votes in the capital but came nowhere outside the city.

Mr Caballero had been leading in the opinion polls until the last moment, but in the event he was beaten into third place by Domingo Laino, veteran leader of the social democratic Authentic Radical Liberal Party, who won an impressive 33 per cent of the votes to Mr Caballero's 23 per cent.

The Colorados split before the election, and at one stage the embittered losing candidate in party primaries, Luis Maria Argana, urged his followers not to vote for Mr Wasmosy, Gen Rodriguez's personal choice. But the party's instinct for self-preservation seems to have overcome such petty rancour in the end. Mr Argana is even more favourably disposed to Gen Stroessner than the President-elect, having served under him as president of the Supreme Court for a number of years.

Despite the Colorado victory, it will not just be business as usual in Paraguay. The corruption and patronage apparatus constructed during the Stroessner decades no longer controls all aspects of an economy that is being opened up to free trade and competition. Mr Caballero's impressive performance in Asuncion is a measure of the influence of the new business class that he represents. His textile factories are big exporters to neighbouring Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay's partners in a common market that should be up and running by 1995. This development is also bad news for the smuggling rackets that were long the main source of income for Gen Stroessner's military and business backers.

More than 200 foreign observers, among them the former US President Jimmy Carter, confirmed that the elections had been reasonably clean - which is certainly a first for Paraguay. There was undoubtedly a certain amount of sharp electoral practice - notably the refusal of a Colorado-leaning judge to allow hundreds of Paraguayans living in Argentina back into the country to vote - but, as one Paraguayan journalist remarked, 'they didn't need much fraud, they had it sewn up already'.

It had, nevertheless, been touch and go for a while, as supporters of all three candidates claimed victory. But when Mr Laino and Mr Caballero conceded defeat, their followers melted away. Perhaps it was because they realised that between them they could muster a majority in Congress and thereby restrain at least some of the Colorados' impulses.