Protesting Re-Election Bill, Paraguayans Set Congress on Fire

A protester carries a chair to a fire outside the congress building during clashes between police and protesters opposing an approved proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the election of a president to a second term, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, March 31, 2017.  (AP/Jorge Saenz)

A protester carries a chair to a fire outside the congress building during clashes between police and protesters opposing an approved proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the election of a president to a second term, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, March 31, 2017. (AP/Jorge Saenz)

Thousands of Paraguayans on Friday night took to the streets to protest against the decision of their country’s Congress to amend the constitution to allow for presidential re-election – a move that would allow right-wing President Horacio Cartes to stand in 2018.

Tensions reached a boiling point when a group of senators voted for a bill that would allow for re-election, violating the country’s current constitution. As of 1992, presidents are only allowed to rule for single five-year terms.

The ruling Colorado Party arranged the vote in a secret closed-door special session. Twenty-five voted for the measure, two more than the 23 required for passage in the 45-member chamber, Reuters reports.

Once news of the special session leaked, thousands of protesters in Asuncion surrounded Congress, using dumpsters and other garbage to light the building on fire. They also stormed the first floor of the building, forcing the senators to retreat to upper levels. Once inside, they destroyed the offices of lawmakers who supported the bill and started more fires.

Overall, about 30 people, including demonstraters and police, were left injured, Al Jazeera reports.

Here’s what transpired.

Paraguayan police have responded to the protests by spraying tear gas and firing water cannons at demonstrators. Cartes has also responded, urging citizens to resolve their issues in a “peaceful” manner.

“Democracy is not conquered or defended with violence and you can be sure this government will continue to put its best effort into maintaining order in the republic,” Cartes said in a statement late Friday night.

But not all share Cartes’ sentiments.

“A coup has been carried out,” Senator Desiree Masi from the opposition Progressive Democratic Party told Reuters.

“We will resist and we invite the people to resist with us.”

The demonstrators claimed the vote undermines the country’s democratic institutions, denouncing it as “illegal.” They have also denounced it as “hypocritical,” given that former Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo was removed in a 2012 parliamentary coup over allegations that he wanted to run for re-election, among others.

However, many of Lugo’s supporters favor the bill, given that it would allow him to run in the country’s 2018 elections. Although they oppose Cartes’ administration, they hope they can turn the bill against him, allowing Lugo’s leftist Guasu Front party to take power once again.

A recent poll conducted by Paraguay’s Ultima Hora show that a majority of citizens, 77 percent, oppose presidential re-election. These are on the grounds that it would be a violation of the nation’s constitution.

Despite this, the poll also shows Lugo as the country’s favorite candidate, with more than 50 percent of voters saying they’d cast their ballot for him.

Lawmakers are expected to meet early next week to further discuss the proposed bill.


© teleSUR

 

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