April 21 (Bloomberg) -- Tobacco magnate Horacio Cartes was elected president of Paraguay amid agriculture-driven economic expansion forecast to surpass 11 percent in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.
Cartes defeated former public works minister Efrain Alegre, the Supreme Electoral Court said, citing a “substantial” advantage for the businessman in preliminary voting. As of 8:37 p.m. in Asuncion, Cartes was ahead with 45.9 percent, with Alegre in second place with 36.9 percent, according to the commission’s website.
“Today I’m sure the Republic of Paraguay won,” Cartes, 56, told supporters during a victory rally. “The commitment is to every person in the country.”
The win returns the Colorado Party of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner to office after voters ousted it from power in 2008 for the first time in six decades. Cartes’ supporters are banking on his entrepreneurial skills to sustain and develop an agricultural boom forecast to spur the fastest growth in South America this year.
Over two decades Cartes has built a business empire that spans the cigarette, banking, cattle-rearing, and fruit juice industries. He is also president of Club Libertad, one of the country’s top soccer teams.
Paraguay is the poorest country in South America after Bolivia, with a per capita gross domestic product $6,788 this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The economy of the world’s fourth-largest soybean exporter will expand 11 percent this year due to a bumper harvest, according to the IMF. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of the nation’s $24 billion economy.
Cartes will also have to rebuild ties with the regional trade bloc, Mercosur, after Paraguay’s membership in the organization was suspended last June when lawmakers ousted Fernando Lugo, a former Catholic priest, as president. Lugo’s impeachment was so quick that South American leaders likened it to a parliamentary coup. Mercosur includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.
After the elections, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner used her Twitter account to offer congratulations to Paraguayans and tell them that “your place is here in Mercosur with all of us as always.”
Federico Franco, Lugo’s vice president, is leading the country until the new president takes office on Aug. 15.
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