|Paraguayan Election Forecast Shows Fraud On the Horizon|
|Written by Michael Fox|
|Saturday, 19 April 2008 15:12|
"(Fernando) Lugo told us in the press conference, that when his family was in the Colorado party, they took them- the Colorados - and gave them courses on how to commit fraud. He was Colorado. My entire family, he said, went to learn how to commit fraud, even though in this era they didn't even need it. But now, they're going to need it," continued Dominquez this morning before a small room of press and international observers at the Paraguayan Press Union (SPP) in Asuncion.
"(But), you can mitigate the effect of the fraud by calling for massive voting," responded Ana Juanche, Latin American Coordinator for Service Peace and Justice in Latin America (SERPAJ-AL), who is also observing tomorrow's elections.
"The more people that participate consciously, the more they are going to be able to limit the affects that this fraud would have. If the people abstain, and think- why am I going to go vote if this is already decided - then in a way we are closing the gamut of possibilities that we could have. It's important that the party that is elected is elected with legitimacy. The question of legitimacy is conditioned by all of the manipulations that have already occured, that are going to occur during the process and will occur afterwards, but if the electorate comes out massively, this legitimacy increases, because it's not the same to win by three or four points, than win by ten points, so please people, get out and vote," Juanche explained.
With only a few short hours before tomorrow's elections, the sentiment is expressed across Asuncion.
Plaza Libertad is located in the downtown region of Paraguay's capital, just a few blocks from the Paraguay river which caresses the Eastern and Southern borders of the city. A block away is the National Congress, where the massive concentrations of the rivaling Presidential campaigns were held earlier this week. Things are now calm.
Marcia and Licia are artisans who sell their handmade clothes and tourist trinkets at one of the first stalls you pass.
"Everything's normal," says Marcia, "like any other day."
"But, there is an energy in the air," Licia responds with a hidden smile, as she stops sweeping the pavement in front of the stall, and moves closer to talk.
"This is a disaster," she says shaking her head, referring to the state of the country. "We're hoping for better days." She's not the only one.
"I'm Colorado (party member), but I'm voting for change," says an anonymous mate-sipping Paraguayan on the bus an hour later. "I've had enough."
Across town are the headquarters for the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC), the political party motoring the campaign for the Presidency of Fernando Lugo - the progressive former bishop who is attempting to break a 60-year Colorado party stranglehold on the country. Lugo is ahead in the polls.
But in Paraguay, it's not enough to be ahead in the polls. With common widespread electoral fraud, most agree that you can't be sure of anything until the votes have been counted and the results announced.
Former Paraguayan Vice President Luis Castiglioni was well ahead of Blanca Ovelar going in to the recent Colorado primaries for Presidential candidate. He was upset in a bought which he contested on the grounds of fraud.
The Paraguayan paper, Ultima Hora, reminded readers today that a similar electoral situation occurred in Paraguay in 1993, when Juan Carlos Wasmosy, won supposedly fraudulent Colorado primaries for Presidential candidate. The then-opposition candidate, Domingo Laíno, was ahead in the polls for President, but lost the elections to Wasmosy, which many criticized as fraudulent.
The APC headquarters were relatively quite this afternoon. As someone said, like the calm before the storm. The same was true at the Supreme Tribunal of Electoral Justice (TSJE), whose press department has been busy supporting the nearly hundred foreign journalists who have descended on this tiny country, in a way that no one here can remember. They've also been helping the hundreds of international observers, who have arrived from across the planet.
Over two hundred Uruguayans arrived last night to Asuncion and were greeted in a reception, opened by the well-known progressive Uruguayan musician Daniel Viglietti- also in town for the elections.
But today, things are relatively calm. Relatively. Just up the street from the TSJE is the headquarters for the Tekojoja movement, the grassroots coalition of social movements and campesinos, which is throwing its utmost support behind the Lugo campaign. A handful of folks are out front, setting up a couple a large canopies in the front year. Inside, dozens are quickly moving from one end of the building to the other. One group is huddled over a computer. Another is talking in the corner. In the pressroom, someone is recording a radio short. A group of four or five folks are trying to plan out coverage of tomorrow's election to ensure that any complaints of fraud will be monitored, recorded and denounced, not just by the international observers but also by Tekojoja.
Fernando Martinez Escobar, a member of the movement walks up to where I'm speaking with another member of the press team.
"The members analyzing the electoral lists have just found a section where ten names out of twenty, are repeated in two different places," he says quickly, which, if verified, would mean that in that at least these ten people are registered to vote in two different places.
"Now I'm depressed," says the guy next to me, comically.
Martinez explains that the analysis team is preparing a report on what they've found. If it's legitimate, it's just one of a whole slew of fraudulent acts that Lugo supporters and many international observers are sure are in the works.
"What we are receiving at this point is the denouncements that the boxes - with the electoral ballots, papers and ink - are arriving already opened, rather than closed as they should arrive. More over, these boxes aren't just delivered already open, but instead of arriving at the Civic Council, which is the place where they should be delivered, they are being delivered to the local governorships, so of course, the government apparatus has these voting elements under its control," says Martinez who has been monitoring the situation.
According to Martinez, this could mean that the ink or ballots could be altered by changing names, numbers and pictures to favor the Colorado candidate.
This, according to the Tekojoja campaign, is just the tip of the iceberg. Out of fears for the inevitable fraud in tomorrow's elections, the movement recently produced a Fraud Manual, which "attempts to compile the various tricks that take place during the electoral process
It is necessary to document them in order to better understand them."
The six-page manual is based on previous experience and at times actually cites locations where fraud has occurred before. It is divided in to eight chapters (according to type of fraud) and highlights nearly 50 different ways in which Tekojoja competitors may try to cheat on election day, ranging from well known vote buying and falsification of identification cards, to elaborate scams which can annul results through technicalities.
According to the leading summary, "As much as we denounce all of these existent frauds, the only way to evade them is with confident members of the voting board, morally unattached and politically decided to accompany change, and excellently trained in these technical aspects."
This is what Lugo supporters are preparing for tomorrow. They hope the Manual will not be necessary, that their opponents won't stoop to fraudulent tactics in order to win the elections, but in case they do, they are doing their best to be prepared to "defend their vote."
Read the manual on electoral fraud written by the Tekojoja Movement.
Michael Fox is reporting on the Paraguayan elections for UpsideDownWorld.org. Stay tuned for more...