Asuncion: Paraguayans voted Sunday for a president they hope will tackle endemic corruption, crime and poverty in elections with possible consequences for ties with Taiwan and Israel.
A center-left coalition is hoping to end the almost unbroken seven decades in power of the conservative Colorado Party.
But Santiago Pena, a 44-year-old economist and former finance minister, was leading the race with 43 percent of votes with nearly 90 percent of the vote counted.
His Colorado Party has governed almost continually since 1947 — through a dictatorship and since the return of democracy in 1989, but has recently been tainted by corruption claims.
Some 4.8 million of Paraguay’s 7.5 million inhabitants were eligible to elect a president and members of the legislature in nine hours of voting that closed at 4:00 pm local time (2000 GMT).
Voting is compulsory and the outcome is determined in a single round.
Pena’s main challenger was lawyer Efrain Alegre, 60, of the Concertacion center-left coalition, who led narrowly in pre-election opinion polls amid a recent anti-incumbency trend in Latin American elections.
He had 27.5 percent with 87 percent of votes counted.
Though they differ on economic and international policy, the two frontrunners are both socially conservative, holding strong anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage stances in an overwhelmingly Catholic nation.
“We hope the least worse wins. All have their weaknesses,” Marta Fernandez, 29, told AFP after casting her ballot in Asuncion.
Also in the capital, voter 60-year-old Ana Barros said: “You have to have at least hope that there will be less crime. It is what I hope as a mother, that the children can study and have work.”
The results of the election to replace President Mario Abdo Benitez, leaving office after a constitutionally limited single term, should be known within hours.