Protesters Set Fire to Paraguayan Congressional Building

Protesters set fire to the Paraguayan congressional building on March 31 amid public discontent over incumbent President Horacio Cartes’ attempt to reform the constitution and extend his term past 2018, according to El Pais. CNBC said that a secret Senate session convened earlier in the day, and 25 senators voted to allow reelection campaigns for the first time since the constitution came into force in 1992. However, the events of March 31 delayed the bill from being considered on the House floor, where it needs to be approved before official codification can occur.

Rodrigo Quintana, leader of the youth political formation in the city of Colmenta, was killed during the protests. El Pais reported that on-site doctors confirmed Quintana’s cause of death as a rubber bullet fired by a police officer. According to El Pais, at least 211 protesters were detained.

Cartes’ attempt to extend his term is not the first effort to reform Paraguay’s restrictive election rules. In August 2016, some congressional representatives proposed an amendment to adjust the official electoral rules but were quickly rejected. However, a new partnership has changed the calculus on this reform.

Peruvian news source RPP noted that the the bill was passed by the Senate in the office of the Guasú Front, the left-wing party in Paraguay. This drew some interest because the main proponent of the bill, Cartes, is a member of the Colorado Party of conservatives. El Pais argued that the re-election amendment is a rare example of cooperation between the two parties. Both parties are confident that the amendment will work in their favor: the Colorados perceive that they can re-elect Cartes, and the Guasús view this as an opportunity to reinstate impeached former-President Fernando Lugo in the 2018 presidential election.

Lugo was impeached by Paraguay’s Congress in 2012, four years into his five-year term because of his poor performance in dealing with a land dispute that left at least 17 dead, according to BBC. Although Lugo and his party labeled this move a coup d’etat, Lugo stepped-down, and his vice president, Federico Franco, completed the term. Despite his impeachment still looming in the public discourse, polling done by Agencia EFE early in March found that Lugo has an advantage in public support at 52.6 percent compared to Cartes’ 11.9 percent.

Despite apparent support for candidates that can only run after a constitutional amendment, a separate poll by Agencia EFE indicates that 77 percent of Paraguayans are opposed to the change. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of the protests will be on the constitutional reform process.

On April 2, Cartes called a dialogue between both parties with the sole condition of “reaching an agreement for a durable democracy.” However, Terra reports that the president of the Paraguayan Congress, Roberto Acevedo, left the dialogue after only one day, calling for the removal of the constitutional amendment before any other agreement can be reached.