Paraguayans see Pena as 'ideal' president to boost economy

By Lucinda Elliott and Daniela Desantis

ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguayans on Monday were mixed about the prospects of another five years of conservative Colorado party rule, but hoped President-elect Santiago Pena could reboot the country’s farm-driven economy.

Pena, a 44-year-old economist, secured a 15-point lead over his opposition rival with 42.7% of the vote, cementing another five-year term for the ruling Colorado Party.

Voters also handed the Colorados a greater majority in both houses of Congress, with a bigger number of seats than in the previous 2018 election. Fifteen, or nearly all of the country’s 17 governorship are held by the party.

After a night of fireworks and celebrations outside the party’s main headquarters in downtown Asuncion, Beatriz Candia was out cleaning the city’s streets, on a more subdued Monday, given the May 1 Labor Day holiday.

"For me personally, Santiago Pena is a person who could contribute a lot to the economy of our country (by) putting things in place in macroeconomic terms,” Candia told Reuters.

Resident Victor Barrios also felt Pena was the right choice: "I think Santiago Pena is the ideal president for now … five years on we’ll see what he does and how we judge him," he said.

In his victory speech, Pena acknowledged the economic challenges the landlocked South American country faces.

"We have a lot to do, after the last years of economic stagnation, of fiscal deficit, the task that awaits us is not for a single person or for a party," Pena said on Sunday, calling for "unity and consensus."

When sworn as leader on Aug. 15, he will, however, face a country that is unconvinced of his leadership. Over half of voters opted for alternative parties and abstentions remained high. The President-elect will also face divisions within his own party over which direction the country should take.

Cipriano Gomez, a 50-year-old teacher, said that he was unconvinced conditions would improve under the next government.

"We are going to carry on in the same way,” he said while sharing traditional Paraguayan tea with a friend, “Hopefully someday citizens ... will really think about their suffrage, their vote for political projects….Hopefully one day we’ll get there."

(Reporting by Miguel Lobianco, Lucinda Elliott and Daniela Desantis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)