Paraguay's First Steps

THE election of businessman Juan Carlos Wasmosy as Paraguay's next president marks a historic, if shaky, step in the country's path to democratic rule.

The May 9 vote, the first democratic elections in Paraguay's 182-year history as a nation, has been judged largely free and fair. International observers monitoring the vote say the irregularities that occurred would not have significantly changed the outcome. President-elect Wasmosy of the Colorado Party beat his nearest rival, Domingo Laino of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, by nine points and Caballero Vargas of the National Encounter coalition by more than 12 points.

The strong showing among Wasmosy's opponents suggests that the country is making progress toward multiparty democracy: The Colorado Party has retained the presidency since 1947, despite the 1989 coup that toppled the longtime dictator, President Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.

Wasmosy faces an uphill battle to end corruption, build the economy, and improve Paraguay's human rights record. The military accepted the results, after making it clear prior to the vote that it would brook no outcome other than a Colorado win. Asked about the military, Wasmosy said, "I am going to be president and commander in chief of the armed forces." He must be held to that.

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