After months of behind-the-scenes preparations, Paraguay’s president, Horacio Cartes, has moved to amend the constitution to allow him to be re-elected in 2018, prompting warnings that the country where Alfredo Stroessner ruled for more than 30 years is once again sliding towards dictatorship. Members of the governing rightwing Colorado party – which has held power for all but four of the past 70 years – joined with several opposition legislators to propose changes to the senate’s procedural rules, a precursor to introducing a re-election bill after a similar attempt was narrowly defeated in August. “Paraguayans have to go out on to the streets to defend democracy, which is under attack,” Rafael Filizzola, a senator with the leftwing Democratic Progressive Party, told reporters.
On Tuesday, riot police and elite troops sealed off the small South American country’s congress. Inside, legislators traded punches and fierce insults, and – after the speaker of the house delayed a vote until Thursday – a pro-Cartes senator seized a microphone, proclaimed himself senate president, and steam-rolled through the changes with a show of hands. A vote on re-election itself is expected to be passed in the coming days.
Opposition parties and dissident Colorados have promised to resist moves towards re-election, decrying a “coup d’etat” and the imposition of a “dictatorship”. Polls suggest that nearly 80% of Paraguayans oppose re-election via constitutional amendment, although some favour a more gradual constitutional reform that would eventually allow re-election.
Cartes, a tobacco magnate, is reportedly monitoring events closely from the presidential palace. His supporters want him to run again in 2018 in order, they claim, to continue his pro-business reforms.