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Cablegate: Paraguay Election Day Media Play

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RR RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHGR RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG
RUEHNL RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHAC #0267 1122152
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 212152Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASUNCION
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6839
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS

UNCLAS ASUNCION 000267

SIPDIS

AMEMBASSIES FOR COM, DCM, PAO, POL, ECON
SECSTATE FOR R, L, F, ECA, IIP, WHA/BSC, WHA/EX, WHA/PDA

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SCUL KPAO OEXC PGOV PREL CI AR BR PA UY
SUBJECT: PARAGUAY ELECTION DAY MEDIA PLAY

REF: (A) ASUNCION 263

1. (U) "Lugo Overpowers the Colorado Party," shouts almost identical
Monday morning headlines in two of the three national dailies,
while circulation-leader ABC Color uses its entire front-page for an
editorial entitled "The people defeat those who humiliated them,
impoverished them and betrayed them." The margin of Fernando Lugo's
victory, so wide that even the ruling party candidate Blanca Ovelar
conceded less than five hours after polls closed, immediately drew
most media coverage toward the unbridled euphoria among opposition
supporters, and reinforced a "fiesta civica" atmosphere celebrating
the democratic process.

2. (U) Beginning in the pre-dawn hours Election Day April 20 and
extending far into the evening, top national radio networks offered
unbroken, live coverage of how the voting process looked via
frequent telephone reports from all corners of the country.
Television coverage included on-screen crawlers listing cell phone
numbers of election prosecutors designated to respond to fraud
concerns. Occasionally callers to media reported small, isolated
incidents of alleged irregularities at individual voting places, but
these moments were overshadowed by a consistent theme of generally
widespread, peaceful and orderly citizen participation in all
departments. The media atmosphere all day long was calm, civil and
reassuring, encouraging voter turnout.

3. (U) Radio announcers also made reference to "boca de urna" exit
poll numbers throughout the day. Paraguayan electoral law allows
exit polls to be conducted while the election is in progress, but
stipulates that news media wait until one hour after polls close to
disclose what those exit polls suggest. Paraguayan media squeaked
around the margins of the law by updating four exit poll numbers
throughout the day, but without indicating which of the four
candidates was represented by which number. With pre-election
polling numbers consistently showing a six-to-seven point Lugo lead
up into the final week, exit poll numbers echoing that same margin
for one unnamed candidate left little mystery in the election day
guessing game. Two leading media powerhouses, "ABC Color" and
ratings juggernaut "Radio Nanduti," updated their joint exit polling
results hourly, the numbers visible at any moment on the "ABC Color"
website.

4. (U) Paraguayan television news is so unaccustomed to "seeing"
running vote count tallies that not even one of Paraguay's five
national TV stations had its own custom graphics presentation
package to display numbers as they were reported at the electoral
commission in Asuncion. All stations without exception simply
pointed a TV camera at the black and white spreadsheet style graph
projected onto a wall at the electoral commission, and announcers
methodically went down the list reading aloud the candidates' vote
totals -- department by department -- off of the primitive-looking
display.

5. (U) The public release of vote totals the moment they arrived
functionally reinforced the expected margin of difference between
the top two presidential candidates, reducing suspicions and
reflexive claims of fraud. Soon after the polls closed Blanca
Ovelar announced that there was a "technical tie" and that she still
expected to win, while Lugo aides said they would not accept any
declaration of a winner coming from what they said is a biased,
ruling-party-controlled electoral commission. It looked and sounded
during the first two hours after the polls closed like Paraguayan
post-election bitterness-as-usual. But the transparency inherent in
the running tally format quickly changed the tone of reporting, as
both the Lugo and Ovelar camps saw history unfolding minute by
minute. TV pictures told the story: increasing euphoria among Lugo
followers on the streets of Asuncion and silent, empty halls at the
ruling Colorado Party's headquarters.

6. (U) Pedro Fadul of the Beloved Fatherland party conceded shortly
after 7:00 pm Sunday evening; Lino Oviedo recognized Lugo's victory
at 8:25 pm; and finally it was Blanca Ovelar's turn to surrender
just before 9:00 pm. The press scrum indecorously closed in around
her, blocking her running mate and the Colorado Party president from
view of the television cameras, and Paraguay quickly moved on to
this next chapter in its political history. The free and rapid flow
of vote count information appears to have very much encouraged a
peaceful, democratic electoral transition.

CASON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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