Paraguay: Referendum on Performance of Congress

President Fernando Lugo has certainly stirred a lot of controversy  in his one year in government. Besides acknowledging that he had fathered one son while he was still a bishop, Lugo was recently accused of fathering two more children during the same time. Now a new debate is taking place after Lugo's comments led to speculation that he would like to dissolve the National Congress. 

The controversy began when President Lugo announced that the executive branch was analyzing the possibility of holding a referendum to find out what citizens think about the parliament’s performance, arguing that “citizens are wise and critical,” and that the government should listen to them with humility.

Critics took that comment as a sign that Lugo would like to dissolve the Congress, especially considering that the majority of the Parliament opposes Lugo's left-wing ideology. Heated reactions from different sectors followed the executive branch's suggestion. Some supporters, such as the peasant movement leader Elvio Benitez, said that popular movements back the initiative. He went even further, saying that “it would be interesting to have a big broom to brush away those criminals from the parliament.”

Another supporter was Catholic Monsignor Mario Melanio Medina, who said: “Citizens have the right to demonstrate their disapproval of a Parliament that does nothing for the people, but against the people.” Catholic Church's representatives quickly clarified that Medina's remarks don't reflect the church's stand. Medina is also known for previously heading the national commission in charge of investigating the abuses of power committed during Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954-89).

The negative reactions to the president's comments came mainly from the opposition Colorado party. A colorado senator, Martín Chiola, argued that the referendum would be an excuse for the executive branch’s incompetence .

Citizens also reacted to the controversial proposal. Blogger and journalist Viviana Benitez in her blog Panambi News [es] writes:

Lo de “no responder a los intereses del país” estoy más que de acuerdo con el Mons. Medina, porque en estos casi un año de haber jurado como representantes del pueblo no han rendido informes de sus gestiones. Ojo, no estoy de acuerdo bajo ningún concepto con la disolución del Congreso, pero sí en controlar más a nuestros representantes.

I really agree with Monsignor Medina, who said that the parliament “does not answer to the country’s interest,” because in their first year of being sworn in as the people’s representatives, they have not provided any reports about their activities. Just to clarify, I don’t agree under any circumstances with the dissolution of the Congress, but I do agree with controlling our representatives more.

Blogger and journalist Susana Oviedo, provides another perspective in her blog Sobre el Punto [es]:

Is a referendum the best way to respond to the lack of cooperation that the executive branch finds in the Congress, and in light of its own inability to achieve a minimum consensus with the legislative branch?

It is pointless. This is a distracting element in a country where, if there is something that never changes, it is the terrible impression that Paraguayan citizens have of their National Congress. Several public opinion surveys during the transition period prove so.

Es un referéndum la mejor manera de responder a la falta de acompañamiento que halla el Ejecutivo en el Congreso y ante su propia debilidad para lograr un mínimo de consenso en el Legislativo?

En realidad es un despropósito. Es un elemento distractor, sobre todo, en un país donde si hay algo que no varía es la pésima impresión que tienen los ciudadanos paraguayos del Congreso Nacional. Diversos estudios de opinión pública a lo largo de la transición lo vienen demostrando.

It was Miguel López Perito, Lugo's chief of staff, who denied ever requesting a referendum but claimed they just “analyzed the possibility.” However, he did reiterate that “citizens always have the right to appeal in any way possible to express their critiques to their government representatives.”

The only clear consensus that Paraguayan citizens came to after this debate is that they are far from satisfied with their Parliament’s performance. A referendum to find that out would be just redundant.

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