Third-Place Finisher in Paraguay’s Presidential Election Arrested

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Paraguay’s national police have arrested a far-right candidate who finished third in Sunday’s presidential elections, following days of protests questioning the legitimacy of the results.

The police confirmed the arrest of lawyer and politician Paraguayo Cubas Colomés in a social media post on Friday, explaining that Cubas was being held in “preventative detention” in compliance with an order from the attorney general’s office.

The arrest took place at 4:30pm local time (20:30 GMT) at a hotel in the city of San Lorenzo, just outside the capital Asunción. Police Commissioner Gilberto Fleitas said in a radio interview afterwards that Cubas had been accused of breaching the peace, among other crimes.

A bald man in a black shirt stands at a glass podium, as a graphic of the Paraguay flag is seen behind him
Paraguayo Cubas Colomés ran as the National Crusade Party candidate in Sunday’s presidential election [File: Diario Ultima Hora via AP]

Cubas, a former senator and leader of the populist National Crusade Party, made a strong showing in the recent presidential elections, receiving 23 percent of the vote. That gave him the third-highest tally, behind second-place finisher Efraín Alegre, with 27.5 percent and President-elect Santiago Peña, who won with a commanding 43 percent.

But Cubas has since taken to social media to challenge the results, calling the leaders of Peña’s ruling conservative Colorado Party “thieves” and accusing the election of being marred by fraud.

However, the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as Paraguay’s own election authorities, have upheld the accuracy of the vote.

“There is no possibility of fraud,” electoral tribunal spokesperson Carlos Ljubetic said in a statement to the press earlier this week. “The results of the election are the expression of the citizenry, whether we like it or not.”

Santiago Pena waves against a red and white backdrop
Santiago Peña won Paraguay’s 2023 presidential election with approximately 43 percent of the vote, continuing a winning streak for the conservative Colorado Party [File: Jorge Saenz/AP Photo]

Still, protesters gathered in Asunción and other parts of the country, defacing Peña campaign billboards and burning tyres to create roadblocks. Outside the election authority’s headquarters on Monday, demonstrators lobbed stones at police, who responded with barricades and rubber bullets.

The second-place finisher Alegre, a centre-left candidate, soon joined calls on social media for a manual recount of the vote and an independent international audit.

“We demand an inspection and opening of all records,” Alegre tweeted on Thursday. “Because without an inspection, the public will not accept as legitimate a result they do not believe in. Why is there so much fear that citizens will find out what really happened?”

In the wake of Cubas’s arrest, he posted his support for the far-right candidate’s release: “We demand the freedom of Paraguayo Cubas and all citizens imprisoned for asking for transparency.”

A line of police in riot gear
Police stand guard over the station where Paraguayo Cubas Colomés was being held on May 5 [Cesar Olmedo/Reuters]

Cubas had been broadcasting on Facebook Live at the time of his arrest on Friday. Later, he showed off his handcuffs in a live video shot from the back of a law enforcement vehicle, as sirens blared.

“I’m being arrested and handcuffed like a criminal,” he wrote on Facebook in all capital letters, “and the real criminals are free and keep dominating the country.”

The far-right politician previously indicated he was travelling to Asunción to lead protests against the election results. Fleitas, the police commissioner, said that between 1,500 to 1,800 officers had been deployed to the electoral court on Friday in anticipation of demonstrations.

But by Friday afternoon, many of Cubas’s supporters were expected to gather instead outside the police station in Asunción where the former candidate was being held.

People sit on the ground outside in the dark in Asuncion, Paraguay

Supporters of the far-right candidate Paraguayo Cubas Colomés sit in protest of his arrest on May 5 [Cesar Olmedo/Reuters]

Source: Aljazeera