ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguayans elected a tobacco magnate as their new leader Sunday, returning the conservative Colorado Party to the presidency that it held for 61 years before former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won the office in 2008.
Horacio Cartes won a five-year term with 46 percent of the vote over 37 percent for Efrain Alegre of the Radical Liberal party, the Electoral Court announced after most votes were counted. Five other candidates trailed far behind.
"I'll need help from all the Paraguayans to govern in the next five years. Poverty, the lack of jobs for young people and international issues await us," Cartes said Sunday night.
Poverty is widespread in Paraguay, which is an agrarian nation that is South America's No. 3 producer of soy, corn and sunflowers. About 1 percent of the population controls 77 percent of the arable land. The U.N. estimates more than half of Paraguayans live in poverty, while the country's census bureau puts the number at 39 percent.
Alegre recognized his defeat despite saying earlier that he might challenge the outcome. "The Paraguayan people have spoken. There's nothing more to say," he said in a brief concession speech.
Cartes, 58, is part of the tiny elite that controls just about everything in Paraguay. His father represented the Cessna airplane company in Paraguay, which enabled Cartes to get schooling in the U.S. state of Oklahoma.
The president-elect owns controlling shares in banks, investment funds, agricultural estates, a soda maker and tobacco plantations. Most pre-election polls predicted his victory, despite this being his first run for public office. Cartes has been well-known in Paraguay as president of Libertad, the club that won last year's national soccer championship.
Many Paraguayans hope this election will encourage other countries to restore full relations that were suspended after last year's impeachment of Lugo, which neighboring nations saw as a threat to democracy in the region.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias led an observer mission from the Organization of American States, and said Sunday that he had complete confidence in the Electoral Court because it had spent months observing and supporting the process. There were 515 observers from the OAS, European Union, the Union of South American Nations regional bloc known as UNASUR and the Union of Latin American Electoral Organizations.