Paraguay House Delays Re-election Vote After Protests

Paraguay’s lower house is delaying a vote on an amendment that would allow presidents to stand for re-election to give President Horacio Cartes’ call for dialogue a chance after violent protests over a closed-door Senate vote.

Supporters of Cartes, a former soft-drink and tobacco businessman, want him to be able to seek a second term. Late on Sunday, Cortes called on different political factions to meet and discuss ways to reduce tensions in the South American country of 6.8 million after an appeal from Pope Francis.

Then on Monday, Hugo Velazquez, the head of the lower house and Cartes ally, told journalists that as long as dialogue continues “and we are trying to arrive at solutions to the problems we have, the chamber of deputies will not consider the amendment.”

Protests on Friday in which parts of the Congress building were set on fire and a protester was shot and killed by police, punctured a period of relative stability under Cartes – the soy and beef exporting nation became one of South America’s fastest-growing economies and began moving past a long history of political uncertainty.

People protested against a group of Senators who called a special session behind closed doors, rather than on the Senate floor, on Friday afternoon to vote on the measure. Twenty-five lawmakers voted for the measure, two more than the 23 required for passage in the 45-member upper chamber.

The bill appeared to have strong support in the 80-member lower house. Opponents called the Senate vote illegal. The measure would also benefit other former presidents, including leftist Fernando Lugo who was impeached in 2012.

Despite the calls for dialogue, opponents of the amendment planned a new protest in front of Congress for Monday night.

Some collected signatures for a petition calling for the proposed amendment to be withdrawn.

Prosecutors ordered the Congress building to be temporarily closed. Senate president Roberto Acevedo, an opponent of re-election, set up an improvised office in the nearby congressional library.

Acevedo and other senators asked the Supreme Court on Monday to rule on the legality of Friday’s vote.

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