Voters are in the process of electing Paraguay's next president, following the impeachment of leftist president Fernando Lugo ten months ago. The election is expected to help restore Paraguay's international standing.
Those heading to the ballot boxes in Paraguay on Sunday hope to usher in a new political era for a country plagued by corruption, drug-trafficking, smuggling and political instability.
"I hope there's not much trouble and that democracy truly reigns today. I hope we don't fight each other because we have to vote in democracy and whoever gets the most votes should wine," Diana Ayala told Retuers Television as she headed in to vote.
Polls indicate that the front runners are the Colorado Party's Horacio Cartes, a 56-year-old conservative tobacco baron, and the Liberal Party's Efrain Alegre, 50.
Until recently, Cartes had been polling about ten percentage points ahead of Alegre, but the Liberal Party candidate bolstered his chances for success last week by forming an alliance with the nationalist Unace party. Unace lost its candidate, Lino Oviedo, in a helicopter crash in February.
The run-up to Sunday's vote was marked by a negative campaign between Cartes and Alegre, who have exchanged accusations of corruption and drug trafficking.
A final candidate, Mario Ferreiro of the Movimiento Avanza Pais, has been polling in third place with about 10 percent of the vote.
Both Cartes and Alegre represent the parties that moved to impeach former President Lugo. A leftist and former Roman Catholic bishop, Lugo was dismissed by Congress after being found guilty of mishandling a land eviction that resulted in the deaths of 17 police officers and peasant famers.
Since Lugo's impeachment, Liberal Party member and former vice president under Lugo, Federico Franco, has been at the helm. But he is not standing as a presidential candidate in the election.
Most of Paraguay's neighbors viewed Lugo's impeachment as a coup and, in turn, imposed diplomatic sanctions. Paraguay's membership in the Mercosur common trade bloc and the Unasur regional group were also suspended.
It is hoped that the installation of a democratically elected president, who should be sworn in this August, will help restore Paraguay's diplomatic ties in the region.
If Cartes wins, it would signal a return to power by the Colorado Party, which ruled the country for 61 years up until 2008.
The polls opened at 7am local time (11:00 GMT) and were set to close nine hours later.
Preliminary results are expected two hours after the polls close.
tm/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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