April 21, 2013
Horacio Cartes, New President of Paraguay
When we first arrived here over four years ago, recently elected ex-priest Lugo was just getting settled in the office of President of the Republic of Paraguay. He's since been impeached and replaced, and today, a very successful businessman (one of the richest men in the country) took a pretty hefty victory. He's got an awfully shady past, but many of our church friends felt he was the best choice because he has a well-known and very trusted pastor high up in his cabinet.
For months now, we've been through the typical advertisements that come with an election year--TV commercials, flyers in the front door, signs everywhere, car stickers. An added plus--guys riding through the neighborhood with flags waving and signs of their candidate, blaring the music and shouting over loudspeakers all the reasons why their guy must be the next president.
By explaining that we don't get into political stuff and just don't understand all the hoopla that makes up the system of this country, we managed to stay on the sidelines and avoid the arguments about who really is the best man for the job.
There was potential for some ugliness when one of the major guys in the running for president was killed in a suspicious helicopter accident three months ago, but things seemed to blow over and settle down pretty quickly.
We heard a trillion stories of ways candidates traditionally buy votes, from paying a certain amount to use your ID card to straight-up offering you cash to prove you'd cast the vote they were purchasing. I wondered how much of this was rumor or a thing of the past, and heard the political promises that this would be a clean race and that it was time to clean up Paraguay. So we stood back and watched.
A few candidates hosted cookouts where they sent buses to bring people in from the outlying areas to big fields where they'd roasted pigs and cows. At one of the places we do a Bible study, several families caught the bus and came back quite unhappy that the first people in the lines were filling bags with meat to take back home. The meat ran out quickly, meaning most folks spent the day in the heat waiting till the bus left again (after the speeches) and still went home hungry. Not sure if they decided to vote for those candidates or not, after all that fun.
Fast forward to today, voting day. It was a little strange to think of holding elections on a Sunday, but it seemed to work. Turns out that, much like the census in Bethlehem, everyone heads back to his hometown to vote. It's possible to register in the place where you currently live, but I've heard the process is so complicated that most people decide to just catch a bus back home. That made for a lot of travel this weekend, but we didn't have any trouble coming back from a weekend mission trip.
We were warned about the possibilities of violence today and tonight, as much from the losers as the winners in the celebratory hours after the results are tallied. Most of the businesses were closed today (minus the taxis, buses, and gas stations, of course, and a few grocery stores), and partying was discouraged by a few rules. First of all, no big gatherings. Not the best day for a birthday BBQ. Next, it's prohibited to sell alcohol on voting day. For this reason, many people stocked up the day before. Oh, well, at least they tried!
When I got back to Encarnacion around noon today, things were already a bit rowdy. The polls closed at 5 PM, so I thought it'd be a safe time to make a grocery run just after 4. Surely things would be slowing down but not quite celebratory, right?
Camille and I ventured out but quickly changed our minds. Tons of traffic, all blowing horns and shouting and waving flags of various partisan colors, and driving less than cautiously. We stopped at the closest store, where we had to squeeze our way in to the parking lot because of an extremely long line of cars along the side of the road--all with stickers, signs, and flags of the same candidate.
|Lined up as far back as I could see...|
|...and this is where the line starts.|
So we keep praying that no matter who's in office, justice and peace rule in Paraguay and God accomplishes His plan here.