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Former Catholic bishop wins Paraguay election

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Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo and his running mate, Federico Franco, celebrate victory. The Colorado Party lost after 61 years in power in Paraguay.

Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo and his running mate, Federico Franco, celebrate victory. The Colorado Party lost after 61 years in power in Paraguay.

Pablo Porciuncula, Getty Images

ASUNCION, Paraguay — The ruling-party candidate in Paraguay's presidential election has conceded to defeat, signaling the end of six decades of one-party rule and handing victory to former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo.

Blanca Ovelar says Lugo has built an unassailable lead and that the outcome of Sunday's election is now "irreversible."

Elections officials are reporting that with 70 percent of polling sites counted, Lugo has 40 percent of the vote, Ovelar 32 percent and former army chief Lino Oviedo 22 percent.

News of the Lugo win has sent thousands of his euphoric supporters into the streets of Asuncion in a massive celebration. Lugo, dubbed the "bishop of the poor," has vowed to help Paraguay's poor and indigenous.

A win by the 56-year-old Lugo would smash the 61-year grip on national power by the Colorado Party, which has endured through dictatorship and democracy to become the region's longest-ruling party. It would also be the latest in a series of leftist, or center-left, governments elected to power this decade in South America.

Ovelar, a 50-year-old former education minister and protege of outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, is vying to become Paraguay's first female president.

With 6,150 of about 14,000 polling sites counted, Lugo had 40 percent to 32 for Ovelar and 22 for Oviedo, election officials said. Four exit polls also showed Lugo winning by margins ranging from 3 to 6 percentage points. The polls had margins of error of 2 percentage points.

Supporters of Lugo set off volleys of fireworks and honked horns in impromptu traffic jams across the Paraguayan capital after the exit poll results were released. Lugo made a succession of appearances at his campaign headquarters before cheering sympathizers.

After the partial official results were released, Lugo appeared a second time and told the crowd: "You are on the ones to blame for the joy of the majority of Paraguayans."

"This is the Paraguay that I dream of — of many colors, many faces," he said in reference to his center-left coalition, Patriotic Alliance for Change.

News broadcasts showed two minor scuffles outside polling places Sunday, but officials said voting was peaceful and without serious incidents. Voting was compulsory for Paraguay's 2.8 million registered voters.

The Colorado Party has endured through democracy and dictatorship in this poor, agrarian South American nation, in power even longer than Cuba's Communist Party.

Eight months ago, Lugo welded leftist unions, Indians and poor farmers into a coalition with Paraguay's main opposition party to form the Patriotic Alliance for Change.

Lugo then launched a charismatic campaign in which he blamed Paraguay's deep-seated economic woes on decades of corruption by an elite that ruled at the expense of the poor in a country of subsistence farmers.

At stake in Sunday's presidential vote is the political course of a country whose single-party reign began in 1947.